Learning by doing

One of my goals this year is to explore and learn more about commercial game engines. Creating a custom engine is fun and a great learning experience but the time invested in building the engine reduces the time available for actual game or application development. I am not totally against investing more time into a custom engine but it should be done for the right reasons. To decide if a specific game or other type of application would benefit from custom tech you should know about the alternatives. In the past I have been playing around with a few different engines like Unity, Unreal Engine, Our Machinery, GameMaker and so on but I never did anything serious in any of them.

While studying at Linköping University I took a course in game design and in that course we used GameMaker to create some game prototypes. During the winter holidays I was able to find some time to revisit GameMaker. Overall, I think it was pretty straight forward to pick up GameMaker again. I created a simple physics-based platform game and tried to involve and inspire my son in the process. The game is very simple. There are two players, each controlled from the same keyboard. The goal of the game is to collaborate and collect all the fruit on a level as fast as possible. The time it takes to collect all fruit is stored in a high score table. There is no real depth to the game play and no story but still enough elements to have a bit of a challenge and get a chance to learn a bit of how it would be to create a “real” game in GameMaker.

Since I have been interested in game development for more than two decades by now I am pretty used to the game development vocabulary. This definitely helps when getting into a commercial engine like GameMaker. If I had no prior experience to game development it would probably be more challenging, but probably still manageable.

If you are making a low-res platform game it is also pretty easy for children to contribute with some simple graphics. In our case me and my son collaborated a bit creating a banana, orange, pineapple and pear as the game’s collectable items. We also recorded some guitar sound with my phone and put into the game when some fruit was collected. After a while we decided to change that sound for a “crunchier” sound found on Freesound. We also tried to create some shapes with pearl plates, photograph them, mask out the background and move them into the game. In theory that should work fine but in practice the result was not so nice. However, it was a fun thing to try out and with some fine tuning I think that could be a fun way for children to create art for a game. The main idea with the guitar and the pearl plate was that I wanted to mediate the idea that you can create art in the real world, transfer it to a computer and share that art with others. I am pretty sure my son enjoyed the experience and got something out of it, but to be honest I think I got more out of this experiment.

I have invested too little time to reach any deep insights regarding using GameMaker for a more serious project. However, the initial impression is that you can create pretty nice things with relatively little effort. Will it be an enjoyable experience to build a bigger game in GameMaker? Not sure, but maybe. I know there are some ambitious games that have been made with GameMaker, like Webbed.

I hope I can find more time to revisit more commercial game engines during this and the upcoming year. I might not end up using any of them for a real product, but I am convinced that knowing more about them is something that will help me make conscious tech decisions in the future.