For early steps in the game making experience – notably, modding a game that you already like – game making tools are a decent way to simulate modding of a commercial project. A lot of game making tools are crude level building tools with some other options exposed, and this can provide a sandbox for experimenting with systems/unit design (game balancing) and level design (layouts, scenarios).
Ambrosine’s Games Page has a very long list of game making software. Every tool on there has its own respective strengths and weaknesses though, which is why I’m sharing this link. (In case that previous link dies for any reason, I’ve copied the list of links here.)
Unfortunately, every game making tool faces limitations. For the reasons that follow, real videogames (the ones you buy in the store, stay up all night playing online, or pay to download) are not made with game making software. Real games get made by programming, image/audio creation… but we’ll return to that in a minute.
Limitations of Game Making Tools
- You are at the mercy of the tool’s creators. Can you make a Mac version? Will your game work a year from now? Do people have to download and install a special plug-in or library to play it? All of these questions are up to the game tool creator, not you.
- Videogame making tools almost always are good at making a particular type of game, and odds are, that isn’t the sort of game that you like. If you can’t make progress toward creating something that your heart is set on, your interest may fade away.
- Simple tools are extremely limiting. On the extreme end, some “game making tools” are a matter of putting new graphics into an existing game, or rearranging level elements in a pre-built game. The tool transforms this realm of infinite creative possibility and turns it into a series of mix-and-match decisions. If Shakespeare were taught, “Writing is so easy! You just pick one of these 3 possible characters, put them in a pre-made plot about greed or love, then decide whether you want the ending happy or sad” he would have produced his “best” (but hopelessly bad) work overnight, then quit writing shortly after he exhausted all 12 possibilities.
- Complex tools, in their attempt to overcome the limitations of simple tools, are nearly as complex as learning the real methods of videogame development. If it’s going to take weeks or months to become a fleunt expert in something anyway, why not put that time toward developing skills that can grow with you over a lifetime, and open doors for you in terms of future employment?
- Taking the easy way out is addictive, can build dependence. The tool may spoil you early on with flashy results, making it harder to take a few steps backward to ease into doing more things by doing them the real way.
- Learning and practicing the wrong way may not be completely recoverable. Using a tool requires learning special metaphors, concepts, and terms that are specific to that tool, and it can screw up learning real videogame development when your brain tries to start contriving parallels between what you know from that tool vs what you’re learning about programming and design.
- Most videogame making tools are made by people that have little or no experience making videogames. A consequence of this is that the games that can be made with it overlook the important details of what makes videogames enjoyable, and it’s often easier to do things that come out poorly than it is to do things that will come out right.
It may partly be because someone has to really be into it to get started with game programming, but everyone I know that has started by programming has made a lifelong hobby or career out of it, and all but 2 of the people I know that started with game making tools burnt out and gave up after getting tired of the handful of things their tool was good for building.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
The Beginner section of Newsletter Vol. 1 has a brief intro into the basics of how real videogames get made. None of the above limitations about “E-Z” Game Making Tools apply – pretty much anything that can be imagined can take place in a videogame, looking and working any way that you can dream up. The catch is that it will take more determination and patience to develop the skills needed, and videogame development done the real way will take weeks or months to complete, instead of hours (until/unless you’re an expert doing mini projects). On the upside, these are skills that can grow over a lifetime, are useful professionally, and can be done entirely for free on any computer.
I’ve recently put together a brief guide for getting started with Dev-C++ 5 (PC only; use XCode on Macs) to begin C/C++ programming. If you’re looking for a good introductory book to C programming (most other languages build off of C, including the industry standard, C++), I got started with C For Dummies by Dan Gookin.
Still Not Convinced?
Here’s an enjoyable ted.com video emphasizing that being patient in exchange for better outcomes may be a key deciding factor in your long-term success.
(Originally posted as part ofGameDevLessons.com Vol. 4 Sec. 1)
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