Tuesday, October 13, 2015

GameMaker: A Creation Suite for Novices to Professionals

GameMaker, a product of YoYo games, is one of those project managers that people love to hate.  While browsing the Steam Greenlight, you might often hear comments like, "This looks like some kid made it in GameMaker."  Its name evokes stigma.

However, recently, GameMaker's true potential has finally started to reveal itself.

GameMaker: Studio has been around for a little over a decade and a half now in one form or another.  Surfers of the older internet may remember it by the name Animo in 1999 before it became GameMaker.  And boy, it had a rough start.

When GameMaker first started out, it was mostly meant as a means for creating simple 2d animations.  With additional programming added on, it started out with very vague and basic commands.  While a decent starting point for beginning programmers, there was no real power to create any complex games.

As features and coding possibilities were added to GameMaker throughout its numerous updates, the program became more and more powerful.  Hobbyists began to take note, and started to move from making crummy arcade breakout clones to making... well, mostly fan games.

As hobbyists started to really push the limits of GameMaker, Mark Overmars (the developer of GameMaker) founded YoYo Games in 2007 and started to really kick things into high gear.  Spreading compatibility around for GameMaker compiled games (undoing a limitation which was at one point a great criticism of the development software) YoYo Games, for the first time, made GameMaker into a viable professional game development studio with GameMaker: Studio.

Today, GameMaker: Studio has earned recognition for some high quality independent games which have been developed through its software.  However, it is still haunted by a toxic dose of infamy.

What don't people like?

One of GameMaker's biggest draws for a lot of people is its ease of use.  I taught myself how to program on it in fourth grade with no prior programming experience, so you can imagine that it has a pretty welcoming learning curve.

So, that sounds like a definite plus, right?  Well...

With the ability for fourth graders to use the program comes the issue of fourth graders using the program.  Looking on the Steam Workshop for GameMaker shows some fairly decent games, but they float atop a mass of amateurs' practice projects.  Before the advent of GameMaker: Studio, this was often seen as the standard quality for GameMaker games, and that association with shitty beginner games has stigmatized GameMaker as a shitty game development tool, which it absolutely is not.

Just because people poop more often than they create medical marvels doesn't mean that people are only worth poop.

Argh!  Bad games!  My only weakness!

What most people don't realize is that these bad games are seeds of growth.  They're people learning their mistakes.  It's people annoyingly playing Smoke On The Water on their guitar over and over again before they start to compose their own music.  In the age of instant gratification most of us apparently forgot that great artists start shitty.

GNOP, the first game published by the guys who made Halo

The correct answer to bad games is constructive criticism.  You're totally allowed to be an asshole and just stomp all over their work too, I guess.  Sometimes that encourages them to get better to rub your face in it.  But what somebody does with GameMaker is absolutely not indicative of all that it can do.  Most importantly, the tons of crap games programmed by little kids on the software is proof positive that GameMaker is a simple to use, easy to learn, convenient and efficient way to develop games.

So what good can it do?

Back in the days before Studio, I felt one of the best examples of well designed games was DarthLupi's creations.  Especially The Cleaner.

If you can get The Cleaner working on your computer, I highly recommend it.
Nowadays we have many more options.  Let me go down the list:

Anything by Daniel Remar

Iji, by Daniel Remar
Just about everything that Daniel Remar has made is game design gold.  While post people would call Iji his magnum opus, I am more partial to his game Hero Core, which makes the absolute most of simplistic design and has a challenging difficulty that is simultaneously hair-pulling and satisfying.

Hero Core by Daniel Remar

What may really win you over, however, if you are a big fan of retro PC games, is Remar's MURI.  MURI is an awesome action platformer which feels just like a DOS game from 1989.  Mostly reminiscent of games like Duke Nukem, Electrobody, and occasional shades of Biomenace, MURI is a well designed, if somewhat short lived, nostalgia trip for some or superb action-packed platformer for others

Buy MURI on Steam!

Hotline Miami by Dennaton Games

Some folks might know Jonatan Söderström (aka, Cactus) for his weird as Hell indie games like Clean Asia! or Hot Throttle.

Hot Throttle
Clean Asia!
However, while you're being distracted by those *ahem* masterpieces, you may not have realized that the same eccentric genius behind those games also made Hotline Miami, a best selling game about 80's styled ultraviolence.

Hotline Miami

Hotline Miami and its sequel are well known for breaking the mold for GameMaker (Though Hotline Miami 2 was ported to another engine during its development).  They managed to elevate beyond hobbyist game development and became best sellers on Steam.  The main character of Hotline Miami, "Jacket," even appears in Payday 2 as a playable character!

Cook, Serve, Delicious! by Vertigo Gaming

Cook, Serve, Delicious! (CSD) is one of those rare games that takes an extremely tired concept and makes it feel new again.  Ever since Tapper in 1983, people have been making games about the multitasking nature of the food service industry.  CSD manages to add in a layer of modular progression and mixes in some of the less savory tasks associated with running a restaurant to create a surprisingly immersive customer service simulator.

Undertale by Toby Fox

If you haven't played Toby Fox's masterpiece Undertale yet, then get to it.  Do not look the game up.  Just buy it and play it.  This is by far one of the best games to come out in 2015.  Don't believe me?

And yes, it really is that good.  Go to Steam and buy it right now.

Self Serving Inclusion: See No Evil

See No Evil is a game on Steam made in GameMaker: Studio by yours truly and my buddy Gabe Priske.  It was the success that launched his studio Noetic and launched my career of continuing to be an independent developer bum.  Solving puzzles and sneaking around blind fanatics, in See No Evil you utilize sounds to progress through the mysterious world where all have voluntarily shut their eyes.

I do get money if you buy the game (because I programmed it), so full disclosure: my inclusion of See No Evil on this list does advertise the game for my own benefit.

Other Stuff:

That's really just scratching the surface.  I didn't even go into the work of Vlambeer who have been making great commercial GameMaker games for years.  If you want to see more awesome games on GameMaker, go to YoYo Games' Games Showcase and check them out!

Oh wow, GameMaker doesn't look crappy at all!

I agree!  GameMaker: Studio is an excellent platform for developing games, whether you're just learning or looking to develop something to sell.  If you're interested, you can access the free version on Steam and simply purchase the professional editions if you ever decide you want to publish your work.  Trust me, programming is an extremely gratifying hobby once you properly harness its potential, and GameMaker is a great way to get there.

Disclaimer: aside from See No Evil, I have no monetary stake in any of what I wrote about above.  I do not get paid by YoYo Games, Vlambeer, Daniel Remar, Dennaton, Vertigo, Toby Fox, or any of them.  I'm sure none of them know who I am and if they paid me to advertise on this blog it'd probably be a waste of money because, as of writing this, I get roughly 30 views per post.  It would be really stupid on their part.  I am just really passionate about this stuff and I hope that I managed to expand your understanding of the topics covered.  Bye!

Want to help me keep making free games?  Try checking out my art shop and buying some cool merchandise with my characters and designs on it.  It helps me stay alive long enough to make stuff!

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