Home > Game design, Game Maker, Misc. > 2 Hidden Issues with Game Designing Programs

2 Hidden Issues with Game Designing Programs

My idea for a youtube video upload fell apart (suffice to say, I need better screen recording software, or something), so I figured I should make up for it by filling out another one of the ideas I’ve had hanging out in my drafts. Actually, RockFlor (head of graphics for Megaman Battle Network Chrono X) uploaded the new track I was planning to upload, though in a different way, so you can still see (eh…hear) what I was planning to upload. I’ll be uploading it myself soon as well. Anyway, onward with today’s post.

So you’ve just found a cool new game design program. It lets you create any type of game you want, all without any coding! It does everything for you, even coming with a ton of pre-made graphics and sounds and music so your projects will be ready to go in the snap of a finger! And, best of all, you can SELL any game you make! You’ll be a rich one-man game design factory! Right?

Unfortunately, no, at least, not that easily. You will mainly find disappointment with any game design software unless you are aware of two pitfalls beforehand and know what you’re going to do to avoid them (or at the very least, reconcile with them) before you even get started.

Source: http://multiplayerblog.mtv.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/easy-button1.jpg

1. It’s SO easy!

No coding! Games running with the click of a mouse! Intuitive graphical interface! Many game-design programs and apps boast things lke these to draw users in, subtly implying a promise of a sort of get-rich quick (design-games quick?) scheme if you would just download and then buy their software. It’ll be so easy!

But that’s the problem. It WON’T be easy, at least, not to make something of quality that you’ll be able to boast about and/or do something with. And there are two reasons. First, just like with anything, learning a new program (especially if you are new to game design and programming in general) will generally involve a learning curve, and the less you already know from previous experience with similar programs the steeper it’s going to be. You have to learn the ins and outs of the particular program, its nuances, abilities, limitations, and most importantly its particular code syntax (including the “syntax” or basic rules for working with any graphical-based “programming” that doesn’t actually involve typing out code). That’s going to take time, and if you’re not patient and willing to invest a lot of time into the program, all you’re going to get is click-the-ball clones and then a lot of boredom when things don’t start turning into 3d MMORPGs after the first week.

Typically, I’d say you’ll start out screwing around with the program superficially to see what each little thing does, most of which you won’t understand at first, and then you’ll start wondering how it all works. That will be frustrating as it’s mostly trial-and-error until it “clicks” for you–and by “clicking” I mean the point at which the “how” and “why” of the program’s functionality become clear and your mind is able to wrap itself around it all which makes your life a lot easier because you’ll be able to figure things out on your own through reasoning and logic instead of having to just guess or continually look it up (which is more troublesome than it sounds, because if you don’t know just what the problem is, then you can’t look up the answer). But this “clicking” doesn’t happen until you’ve done the trial and error to get there, and if you’re not willing to endure the frustration then, again, you won’t get very far.

Second, the advertisements are deceitful. Game design programs typically come with claims shouting about how the program is so easy to use, complete with screenshots of beautiful game graphics, and perhaps a video of some awesome game made with their program. That’s all fine and good, and they may very well be legitimate screenshots of actual games made with that particular program. However, they are the best games made with that program. No self-respecting head-of-marketing for the game-design-program’s company would have it any other way. What you are seeing is usually the hard work of either a TEAM of people working on different aspects of the same game, or one guy who worked on a game for years (or months, depending on the scope of the particular game).

And let met tell you, from personal experience, it is an absolute BEAST to try and finish everything in a game on your own. I tended to have this cycle, where I would get excited about my idea for a game, code the first parts of the main engine with dummy graphics, and then start working on the actual graphics (which, as some of you may know, is my game-design kryptonite). But, after I finish a few sprites, I would always (at least, with almost every relatively large project) get bored with the difficulty I perceived and abandon the game (can’t have a good game without good graphics…at least, not one that would be competitive. This isn’t true 100% of the time, but I definitely find it to be the rule rather than the exception). I just couldn’t get myself to follow through because I got too frustrated too easily when the game didn’t progress at the rate that kept ME entertained.

And that’s another good point. If you’re making games to keep yourself entertained, that is, for the fun of seeing your game unfold as quickly as a player will see it unfold from his point of view (effectively “playing” your own game as you make it), think again. Games generally unfold, on the developer’s side of things, MUCH more slowly than they do for players–even for extremely difficult games. Whereas a player may spend a couple of hours on one particular level of a game, a developer might spend a week or even two putting it together, and possibly more if it has a lot of new game-play gimmicks (flipping gravity upside down, disintegrating platforms, cannons, etc.) or different graphics. That is, of course, assuming that the developer is using one of the truly “easy” game design programs. If you’re using a more coding-based one or if you’re still a relative beginner, prepare to possibly spend even longer if you really want a game that doesn’t seem rushed.

Keep in mind, if you’re really not worried about quality, you can probably have the entirety of any sort of game out in a few weeks, with the exception of those requiring more difficult programming strategies like involved puzzle games or multiplayer/online games. If you really care about quality, though, then be prepared for the kind of time commitments I’ve been talking about.

The point of this, is that the seller of a game-design program wants you to see, when deciding whether to buy, the kinds of games the program COULD make, IF the developer had the skill to do so. If you are interested in making a quality game with one of these game design programs, I recommend one of three things: accept the time commitment required to make a quality game; put together a team to make a quality game by having each person focus on their specialty, thereby possibly eliminating the kind of problem I had where I lost interest due to having to complete a type of task I couldn’t handle; or don’t bother and find a different hobby.

In addition, stay away from those ready-made graphics and sounds, or at least don’t keep using them past when you’ve learned the ins and outs of the program and when you are ready to start trying to make a quality game. Those resources will have been used by all the other new users who aren’t interested in making a quality game like you are (…right?), and therefore whenever anybody sees your game with the same exact graphics/sounds, they’ll immediately link your game in their minds to those poor-quality games. Not to mention, I haven’t seen or heard about any sort of game design program which comes with really quality resources in the first place, and even if they did, they won’t be tailored to your particular game. You’ll have to compromise, leading to your game not looking or sounding how you want it to look or sound, making the whole process that much less fun. Not to mention it limits what you can actually do: don’t have a dragon sprite? Sorry, you can’t make that awesome dragon boss you wanted to make. Only have one generic boss sprite? Darn, now you have to either only have one boss or have the same boss over and over again. Hopefully you see where I’m going with this. And if you try to “add” to the graphics already there, your graphics won’t look the same, dragging down the visual quality (just like paintings by one artist will inevitably look different from painters of another artist). There are people who good enough to “mimic” certain styles of art/spriting, but if you are or have access to one, then why bother with the ready-made graphics in the first place?

Perhaps “easy game development” should actually be read “somewhat easier game development.”

2. I can’t wait until my game is done. I’m gonna…uh…

This is the next problem. Let’s say you do manage to finish designing a game with at least relatively high quality. What are you going to do with it? Show it to your friends? Sell it?

The first option, if it’s the only thing you’re planning to do with your finished game, makes it foolish to even bother. Why put in hours and hours to design a game that only your friends are going to play and then forget about a week after you show them? Even heavy forum or other similar internet traffic will die down eventually, and then what will you have? Nothing, except a game that you spent hours of your life on only to get 15 minutes of “fame” that probably won’t mean much of anything in the long run.

So what should you plan on doing with your game? This is indeed a big problem to think about. The troubling aspect is that, with many game design programs, just based on the platform for which they design and/or the type and size of the online community based around it, it may not even be worth it at all. If a certain program can only build PC games, with a small online community and no ways to facilitate sales or even downloads (an app-store-like website, for example), then why should you even bother? Being completely honest, if you’re not already an established contender in the PC games market, you’re not going to sell anything just by putting up your own site with a paypal link to buy your game. You need help; everyone does before they’re established in the particular market. It’s why the iPhone app store is so popular among aspiring developers–it’s the perfect and easiest way available right now to make your app available to tons of customers who go to the app store specifically to look for apps to buy and download.

So before you download and especially before you BUY any game design programs, make sure you think about what you’re going to do with the game, and the types of opportunities the particular program offers. Ask yourself, what will I do with this game? Will this be wasted effort, only to produce a game (whether quality or not) that’ll sit in the back of my hard drive for years to come? Are there opportunities and avenues out there that will allow me to do something useful with my game, such as the Apple App Stores or the way yoyogames (maintainers of Game Maker) offers to take quality games and compile them for the Apple App Store?

Admittedly, some people don’t really care what happens to their game, and just want the fun of making it. But for those who feel this way, just remember everything I mentioned in the last section — it won’t be all fun and games (lol). Making a game, that is, making a GOOD game, requires hard work. The enjoyment comes each time you accomplish something new in the game (finishing a new level, squashing some bug, etc.) but frustration will always be something you’ll have to contend with beforehand. Even the greatest programmers get bugs sometimes, and any bug can be hair-yankingly frustrating if it is obscure and/or rare enough.

In addition, are you sure you won’t care after you’ve spent a hundred hours on the game only to find that after a few weeks it becomes irrelevant? It may be fun now, or at least, every so often while you’re making it, but after you’re done, will you say to yourself, “I really wouldn’t rather have all those hours of my life back”?

This post is in NO way attempting to discourage ALL users from using game-design programs, or attempting to design their own games in general. Rather, it is to inject a bit of reality into the pretty screenshots and big promises offered by the game design program companies. Remember — it’s marketing; the ads are supposed to make difficult things look easy, and make programs that don’t offer any ways to help you get something tangible out of your game look more attractive and life-changing. But if you’re aware of all this, and are either okay with it or have strategies developed in advance to deal with it all, then you should be fine and Game Making will probably be a great hobby for you and/or money-making opportunity (if you’re lucky and dedicated).

Thanks for reading.

  1. ~Ch@ud~
    February 7, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    Very nice post.
    However, when i heard
    >no coding
    i nearly killed myself with a facepalm. Mouse programming reminds me of Visual Basic .NET :sick:

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