Smart Living | Features

Features | 20 Feb 2017

Get Started With… Game development: Top tips from GameMaker Studio

Ever wanted to make your own video game? We've been speaking to the team at GameMaker Studio to find out why it's never been easier to bring your big idea to life...

Making your own video game is something that most avid players have thought about at some stage or another. But how realistic is that dream? In truth, the infrastructure for releasing a homemade game onto a variety of platforms has never been stronger, while tools that let even the most technologically challenged of us create real, working titles without the need to learn a full coding language are available in abundance.

One such tool is GameMaker Studio (owned by YoYo Games), which is currently right on the verge of releasing a huge ‘2.0’ update that promises smarter features, scope for bigger games and a more streamlined interface. To find out how you can get your dream game out of your head and onto people’s smartphones and consoles, we’ve been speaking to the team behind the tool…

Code breakers

As it turns out, GameMaker’s roots are a mixed bag, with the software perpetually striving to be something few digital suites can manage: both a powerful tool for professionals and an accessible starting place amateurs: “GameMaker was originally created in 1999 as a tool for hobbyist game developers,” says YoYo’s Patrick Kelly.

“Then, in 2012, ‘GameMaker Studio’ was released, which aimed to appeal to professional developers, while still keeping its roots with hobbyists and educators. But because GameMaker’s roots were with those hobbyist developers – with ease of use sometimes overtaking functionality – GameMaker Studio has since a reputation of not being suitable for ‘professional’ coders. Some of this reputation was fair and some unfair,” he adds, candidly.

“That’s why we’re releasing the much-anticipated GameMaker Studio 2 soon – we really believe it’ll address the feedback and concerns we’ve had from professional developers, while still remaining accessible (and, importantly, affordable) for novices. It’s the ultimate tool for 2D game development.”

“It’s true that to make good games you don’t necessarily need to know code.”

So that’s the pros catered for, but what about us regular folk? How easy is it to use something like GameMaker Studio to create a game from scratch?

“It’s the fastest and definitely the friendliest cross-platform game development platform out there,” says Patrick. “Version 2.0 has a new tutorial system and introduction videos too, which help speed the process up significantly. We’ve had artists who’ve never written a line of code in their life manage make a game just by following the various tutorials, and then going on to tweak them and put in their own ideas. If they can do this, so can anyone else.”

Hang on… Coding? We thought the selling point here was the ability to make a game without needing to learn to be a programmer?

“It’s true that to make good games you don’t necessarily need to know code,” says Patrick. “People with great ideas can now create simple but effective games like Flappy Bird easily and quickly, so the future of game making definitely includes games that are made by people who don’t code. Coding, however, will always remain a factor in game making because it allows unlimited freedom and flexibility.”

With that in mind, Patrick explains, what separates GameMaker Studio from a traditional game-making suite built specifically for pros is that it can help do the coding leg work for you:

“GameMaker Studio 2 creates the bridge,” he says. “On one level, the drag-and-drop system creates code as you go, which can be edited if necessary, but it also gives coders a codebase from which to learn and experiment, and then it has a very powerful scripting language, which offers more experienced coders complete freedom.

“There are loads of premade tutorials, assets (like backgrounds and characters), and everything else you might need to get started with that, though,” Patrick says, “and you can start to learn to code quickly through observation and experimentation. For instance, if you change a setting in the drag-and-drop interface, you’ll immediately see the change in the code.

“The drag-and-drop system creates code as you go, which can be edited if necessary.”

“The whole experience is really geared towards people looking for a proven and easy-to-use environment – and one that exports to multiple gaming platforms.”

That ability – to make a game one on computer that’ll run on everything from home consoles to smartphones – is super appealing for anyone with grand ideas for their game. GameMaker uses what’s called a ‘single code base’ to let you export your masterpiece to Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, websites and consoles.

And with that being the case, it’s likely that you’ve already seen or played a game made using GameMaker…

Learn from the greats

Want to know you’ll be in good company? GameMaker Studio users have created huge numbers of brilliant games over its five-year span. “It’s been downloaded and activated by over ten million people worldwide,” says Patrick, “and there are over 55,000 developers already using the open beta of GameMaker Studio 2 ahead of its release.”

“What’s more, we’ve had many notable successes over the years – the most recent being Crashlands, from independent developer Butterscotch Shenanigans. Released in mid-2016, on launch it was awarded the prestigious App Store Editors’ Choice, Google Play Editors’ Choice, was recently named as one of The Times’ Games of the Year, as TouchArcade’s Game of the Year, and listed in both the App Store and Google Play’s ‘Games of 2016’ lists.”

That’s an impressively long list of accolades, but as Patrick neatly summarises: “It was basically one of the biggest games in 2016. There have been loads of hobbyist developers who have had success with their part-time GameMaker Studio projects, though,” he adds, “and many have gone on to make very comfortable careers for themselves as full-time game developers. We’d say that’s the biggest success of the software – that hobbyist game developers have turned their hobby into a career.”

So there you have it; a means to turn your cracking idea into a potentially award-winning game – and maybe a new career to boot. Patrick’s final advice? “Go home and start doing it today – just experiment!” Sounds like as good a starting point as any to us.

Keen to get going? You can get started with GameMaker Studio right here.

Could you draw for a living? Check out how in our interview with YouTube artist Josiah Banks, AKA ‘Draw With Jazza.’