Anyone can create video games! Now before you start shaking me saying, “You’re crazy, Abe! Me, create video games? Come on!” you should know about possibly the coolest Windows application around: Game Maker.
As you can probably guess, it promises to make creating your own computer games simpler. It certainly lives up to its promise, and for many reasons, but I think the main reason is because it replaces the arduous task of writing thousands of lines of cryptic code with a simple drag-and-drop interface. Best of all, it’s free.
This is certainly a good thing since anyone who has ever played a video game has probably had some sort of fantasy of creating their own. Unfortunately, game making is and always has been a very time-consuming and technical task. As the industry has matured, the tools needed to make games have become easier, but games have also become considerably more complex, leaving thousands of would-be game designers in much the same situation as their eighties and nineties counterparts.
Luckily, there’s Game Maker. It probably won’t help you create the next “Halo Killer” but it’s a great first step into the world of game design. Plus it may even help you create that fun, 2D game you’ve always dreamed about.
After you download and install Game Maker you will be greeted by a little nag screen that encourages you to buy the Pro version (more on that later) and a dialog box that asks if you want to use Simple or Advanced mode. The Simple mode simply hides some of the more complex features which you are not likely to use when starting out and thus will only confuse you. If this is your first time using Game Maker you should choose “Simple” at first to familiarize yourself with the program, then switch to “Advanced” whenever you deem it appropriate.
When the main window finally pops up you will find a fairly clean, and (hopefully) intuitive interface. Game development with Game Maker revolves around five basic categories that you are likely to use in every game: sprites, sounds, backgrounds, objects, and rooms (and a few other, less fundamental categories you will only see in Advanced mode). Objects move around various rooms, interacting with each other and the player by way of a system of events and actions. Everything that happens in a game is called an event and the actions are the tasks you tell the computer to perform whenever a particular event happens. This is where code would normally be required but Game Maker bypasses the code with a collection of icons, each representing a different action, that you can drag and drop into your game.
It may sound complicated, but game design is actually one of the more complex programming tasks, and Game Maker does an admirable job of simplifying while still holding on to the core concepts of programming. It will take some time to get used to if this is your first “programming” but I assure you it’s worth it. There are other game creation programs that may be easier for you to pick up, but I guarantee you that all of them are more limited.
Game Maker offers plenty of useful features for the inevitable time when a user grows beyond the drag-and-drop system. Most notably is the Game Maker Language (GML), a more traditional programming language that you can use in place of drag-and-drop icons. Additionally, Game Maker can be extended with things called DLL’s, libraries and GML scripts. I won’t go into the technical details, but I hope you realize that Game Maker isn’t just for beginners. If you plan to become a professional game programmer you will definitely need to learn more traditional programming languages like C++ or Java. But most hobbyist game creators are likely to find all they could ever need or want with Game Maker.
Game Maker is great, but it has a few downsides of which you ought to be aware. Firstly is the issue of speed; Game Maker tends to sacrifice speed for ease of use. Luckily, computers are getting more and more powerful and most 2D games aren’t particularly processor-intensive. You can make 3D games, but Game Maker’s 3D functionality is very limited and you need to buy the Pro version to unlock that functionality anyways. The Lite version of Game Maker (the one you may have already downloaded) has no trial period, but it does have some functionality disabled as well as a banner that is displayed when loading games. The Pro version costs a reasonable US$20 (15 Euros, or 10 Pounds). It’s up to you to decide if the small additions are worth the price, but it is my personal opinion that they are generally unnecessary.
I can say with some confidence that Game Maker has one of the largest and liveliest communities centered around game development on the internet. The official forum, appropriately named the Game Maker Community, has over 68,000 members and is definitely the epicenter of Game Maker related activity. There you will find discussions, downloads, and links on virtually every aspect of Game Maker and game development in general. You’ll definitely want to bookmark it. Additionally, there are a couple of fan-run web magazines, MarkUp and GM Tech; a Web 2.0 site called YoYoGames.com where you can share, play, and rate games made with Game Maker; and a few fan-run websites you can find at the directory, GameMaker.info.
Perhaps most exciting about Game Maker is its bright future. As of this writing Yo Yo Games, the company in charge of Game Maker, is rewriting it in C++. This is ostensibly to port it to Mac OS X, but it could also mean a Linux version, a performance improvement, and the possibility of running Game Maker made games on non-PC platforms like mobile phones and game consoles. Game Maker 8.0 is expected to release some time in 2009.
Have you ever tried this program? What did you think of it? If so, please consider sharing your opinions and stories of it with us all in the comments.
(By) Abraham Kurp was introduced to open source software a few years ago and it was love at first site. When not preaching the virtues of open source he enjoys reading classic science fiction, playing obscure video games, dabbling in programming, and of course writing.
More articles about: