What Is GameMaker?
“Man is a gaming animal. He must always be trying to get the better in something or other.”
I lay claim to a lot of creative pursuits– comics, prose, poetry, films, music– but one always eluded my grasp. And that was video games.
I had no shortage of ideas. And I had some pretty sound thoughts about level design and gameplay mechanics. But since I couldn’t program– and since I couldn’t find someone who would program a game I designed– I eventually gave up on this dream.
Even the basic programming languages are confounding when you suck at math. Numbers regularly make my head spin, and I couldn’t remember all the command prompts. I was able to get a very tentative grasp of QBASIC, but C++ was too daunting.
I just didn’t have the aptitude for it.
And then Mark Overmars said, Let there be GameMaker, and there was GameMaker. And I saw GameMaker and saw that it was good.
GameMaker, created by game theory and programming teacher Mark Overmars, was created with people like me in mind. He had too many students who struggled with the daunting task of programming and thus were unable to get their feet wet with the design itself. They had no way of figuring out how all the different pieces worked together because there were too many different pieces to work with.
GameMaker operates on a drag-and-drop principle. You create sprites (either with the built-in spriting program, or in MS Paint, or what-have-you) and assign them to objects. With these objects, you can add events, such as “PRESS LEFT ARROW KEY”, and with these events, you can add actions, such as “MOVE LEFT”. You can create a collision event between your player object and your enemy object, and that event can cause the player’s lives or health or what-have-you to decrease.
Now, that’s not to say that there isn’t a bit of a learning curve. It’s not all immediately accessible, and in my first week with the program, I pulled my hair out trying to figure out how to make the player jump and how to keep him from falling right through the floor. There are variables to play with– gravity and vertical speed and room speed, for starters.
But there is a forum run by the GameMaker Community, most of whom are happy to answer any questions. Eventually, I figured out what I was doing wrong– something that I never would have done had I still been trying to learn C++.
The other big positive with using GameMaker, besides having the ability to make games, is that it slowly allows you to understand the basics of object-based programming. You learn how variables work together with If-Then and Else statements. And, having gained a deeper understanding of that, you might have a better shot of figuring out one of the standard programming languages.
GameMaker does seem to have some limitations. You’re not, for example, going to make the next Halo with GameMaker. But you can make entertaining games of good quality, and it’s an excellent learning tool.
It’s also free, which is quite a bonus. You can get a registered version– with additional bells and whistles– for a mere $25.00.