Welcome back to Part 2 of our written version of our PAX Talk where we will cover a similar progression of game making tools available on the Web and PC/MAC. Once again, we present these tools in a logical progression to keep your children or novice programers engaged and not overwhelmed. There is no shortage of solid game making tools available, the hardest choice (after what type of game to make) may be choosing a tech set.
Remember: Creation, Not Consumption.
Sploder:Free Browser Based
Sploder is a great site to visit with your family to make your own games in minutes. There are several pre-built templates to choose from (Retro Arcade, Platformer, Physic Puzzle, 2D Top Down Shooter, 3D/Top Down Shooter)
While you are restricted to these mechanics, and you cannot import your own art, (you can use the built in editor) there is a surprising amount of flexibility hidden under the hood. Allowing you to create very elaborate puzzles in any of the game types.
Scratch:Free, Browser Based
A Visual Programming system, similar to Hopscotch from Part 1. While it has its roots in Logo/Turtle, the complexity of the creations from the students around the world never ceases to amaze me. It is possible to create very elaborate simulations, games and stories in Scratch. All without the need to type. The graphics may leave your charges turning up their noses, but the number of tutorials, books and sample projects more than makes up for any limits in the presentation. As we will see, more complex game tools use Scratch as a foundation. Making time spent in Scratch all the more useful.
Hackety Hack:Mac/PC/Linux Free
Hackety is a great way to learn Ruby, which is not only a very popular programming language in web development, but a very forgiving and relatively easy language to pick up. Hackety Hack has a nice set of tutorials that can be finished in an afternoon. Typing is required, but you are not going to type a great deal of code. It is a solid, early step to the programming that will show up in other tools.
RPG Maker:Free 30 Day Trail, $30-$70 – PC Development
RPG Maker does one thing and it does it very well. That is, make Final Fantasy style RPG games, with dozens of hours of gameplay. The skills learned in RPGMaker are not as portable as the programing skills in some of the other systems, but RPGMaker is very solid at enforcing rigorous discipline in your development process. Additional art is available for purchase. The games will only run on PC. but you can sell your game. An added bonus: RPG Maker’s tutorials do something that no other tutorials do, cover game design.
Stencyl:Free Trial to $200 – PC Development, Ship on iOS, Android, Flash
Stencyl is a great way to make games that you can publish to iOS, Android and Flash. It has fair amount of flexibility, but its strong suit is 2D platformers and arcade games. You can use a mix of drag and drop tiles, designed on purpose to resemble Scratch, and you can also write code when you need more control.
Gamesalad:Free to $300 – PC and Mac Development, ship on iOS, Android Flash
Gamesalad is on par with Stencyl, though the “Creator” feels more like GamePress than Hopscotch/Scratch. There do appear to be more “hit” games created with Gamesalad than Stencyl, but that should not be the reason to pick one over another. While we did not use it, Gamesalad’s In-App preview to mimic mobile device performance seems like a solid addition. Again, the games are going to be 2D side scrollers, shooters, arcade in nature.
Gamemaker:Free Trial to $800
PC Development, Ship on iOS, Android, Flash. There is an older, no longer support Mac version you can still download.
Gamemaker gives a bit more direct access to the underlying code and variables. While you don’t need to write code, it is not as “drag and drop” as Stencyl, resembling GameSalad more. But we did feel Gamemaker’s presentation was better than Gamesald. Gamemaker is a bit of an Indie Studio favorite, used to develop Gunpoint, Hotline Miami, Stealth Bastard, and Home. Once again, all 2D games.
Unity3D:Free Trail to $1,500 – PC Development Ship on iOS, Android, Flash, PSN, XBLA, Wii,
Unity 3D is the real deal. It allows you to write code and create 3D games. It has a large user base, amazing tutorials and you can even buy code and art assets from their store to jump start your project. But, you need to have a solid understanding of C# programming before you start here. I would recommend building a few games in Gamemaker, Gamesalad, Stencyl then taking a few on-line classes in C# before moving on to Unity3D. It is unlikely that a single person could create a game using Unity, unlike the other 2D systems reviewed above.
I used Unity to ship Frogger Hyper Arcade Edition, primarily because it allowed us to ship a 3D game on Wii, iOS, Android, PSN and XBLA.
Other Tech:Below are some other tool set and references.
Kudo from Microsoft. It is an interesting idea, allowing you create a game in 3D space with a visual programming language. But we found that the UI was awkward on the 360 and we moved on. There is a free version available as well.
Crytek/Unreal/Source Engine: These engines are all available for you to download and experiment with. I have shipped over a dozen games powered by Unreal (Special Forces Team X, Shadow Ops: Red Mercury, America’s Army 2 and 3). It has been my experience that Unreal has the best tutorials.
Gamestarmechanic.com: This site was recommended by a great many people. We simply ran out of time to cover it.
Code Academy:A highly reviewed, interactive tutorial system to teach anyone how to code
khanacademy.org: a great place to some of the math you will need for more complex game designs.