No Time To Play

Game-making tools, part two

by on Jan.24, 2011, under Gamedev

Artist Toolbox: Dean Russo / Dumbo Arts Center: Art Under the Bridge Festival 2009 / 20090926.10D.54862.P1.L1 / SML

It’s only natural for a gamer to dream of making their own games. The good news is, the means for doing that are available to just about anyone nowadays. The bad news is, many people shy away at the thought of having to learn programming. And while that fear is completely unfounded, getting help as a beginner is of course useful.

In part one of this article, I mentioned a number of game-making tools that make game programming much, much easier than starting from scratch. This time I’m going to look at the kind that seeks to eliminate programming altogether, at least for the most part.

With the plethora of interactive fiction authoring systems that appeared since the early 1990es, it may seem surprising that the vast majority are in the form of a specialized programming language. After all, this is a very formulaic genre; surely one could get away with typing descriptions in a GUI? That’s exactly the premise underlying Adrift, a one-of-a-kind tool with its own community and annual competitions, mostly separated from the rest of the IF crowd. It also has a reputation for producing buggy games with poor spelling, as authors have no means to compensate for bugs in the game engine nor to extract the text for spellchecking, as is the case with competing software.

But text adventures are among the easiest games to make anyway. At the opposite end of the spectrum, RPGs stand to benefit much more from game creation tools. As it turns out, there are quite a few. Having no prior experience with any of them, all I can recommend is trying them out. But whichever you choose, I urge you to read this “getting started” tutorial for RPG Toolkit. Consider the amount of work that goes into assembling one sprite, painting one tiny map, placing one NPC and giving it a couple of lines to say. Now multiply that by one hundred or so. Do you still think programming is the main difficulty here?

(Incidentally, I took RPG Toolkit for a brief test drive. First it refused to run in a regular user account. Then I had to guess which parts of the interface the tutorial refers to. And then the editor crashed when I mistakenly dragged the mouse cursor outside the map. Maybe with a bit of time and patience it can be made to work properly. I had neither.)

The problem becomes even more visible when you move to 3D. With the CELstart component of Crystal Space, you can create a game simply by packaging 3D models together with some XML or Python files. With Blender‘s included game engine you can create a game without ever leaving the modeler. The Unity3D editor (thanks, Fabian) claims to reduce the task to drag-and-drop. I believe them. Now go make the greatest first person shooter of all times.

Wait, why are you running away?

Look, come back. Grab Game Maker and go through the included tutorial. It should take you under half an hour (I was distracted), and you will end up with a simple, but fun enough game without writing a single line of code. My skepticism aside, this is clearly feasible. But consider this: you had the assets and the game design already done for you, and it really is a simple one, and still it was somewhat tedious to do. After adding the fifty-seventh sprite by hand, you may want to consider that with code you’d only have to go through the motions once.

So here is my (biased) advice: if you’re serious about getting into game development, don’t waste too much time with “training wheels”; start learning programming and run away with it. The freedom more than compensates for the initial effort. Do try something like PyGame or LÖVE, it can definitely help. But don’t become dependent on any of them; tools come and go, understanding lasts.

(Illustration: Artist Toolbox: Dean Russo by See-Ming Lee; CC-BY-SA)

Creative Commons License
Game-making tools, part two by Felix Pleșoianu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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