We ask whether this free game dev toolkit is best for aspiring creators
The internet has democratised information and services like never before, and game making is one area that is now within reach of ordinary people.
GameSalad is one of the tools that is making this possible.
The brainchild of co-founder Michael Agustin, GameSalad uses a visual toolkit to open up game development to the masses.
“While working as a game designer, Michael kept searching for better methods of rapid prototyping. His breakthrough was to approach game development from a designer’s perspective, rather than a programmer’s. He didn’t understand why coding should be necessary to build a great game,” says Jonathan Hunt, director of community relations at GameSalad.
The GameSalad Creator doesn’t use code, making it well-suited for entry-level developers to build simple 2D games relatively for free.
“To build a game with GameSalad, you will never have to write a single line of code. Everything is drag and drop. You want to add art to a game? Drag it in from a finder window. You want to add a behaviour? Drag it in from the behaviour list onto the actor of your choice. It’s common sense, not a programming language.”
On the subject of how technically experienced the average GameSalad user is, Hunt says:
“The majority of GameSalad users have some experience with programming. At the same time, we have developers like Beansprites. The owner of Beansprites had never seen a line of code before finding GameSalad. One year later, she’s made 36 games for iOS and now owns a business as a full-time independent game developer.
“We also have developers like Darren Spencer of Utopian Games. Darren leads a three-person team, and they’ve been building games for PC for more than a decade.”
Utopian Games are responsible for success puzzle game Bumps. Spencer has 15 years experience already, and told us: “It was amazing how fast and easy it was to get a working prototype of Bumps so we decided to go full steam ahead and use GameSalad to develop.”
The toolkit supports all three iOS formats, a fact that has attracted many who seek a more affordable route to the App Store. However, open standards mean quality varies wildly.
A GameSalad user who has less experience in the field of game design is graphic designer Paul Dobson, who used the toolkit to build iOS game Rasher Basher. He spent several months with the toolkit before deciding to use it for his mobile game.
“The truth is, it’s not quite as easy as it makes out. You do have to understand how a game works and become involved, not so much with programming itself, but the thought process behind that. It’s certainly not a case of pure drag and drop. Rasher Basher still took more than seven months to create - graphics, sound, level design, story. That all takes time.
“There are many poor games made using GameSalad but the fundamentals involved in producing something respectable needs investment and, of course, you still have to understand exactly how the Apple process works and put money up - it’s not a tool to use if you’re just after a quick buck,” says Dobson.
In this respect, there are evidently limitations to GameSalad. And users will still have to learn about publishing and marketing their games the hard way. Nevertheless, it’s a cost-effective proving ground for those who wish to hone their game design skills.
Dobson says the learning curve is why it is well suited for entry-level developers and more advanced coders: “What GameSalad does is free you from the grind of game making and lets you use your initiative and skills to produce something that others will enjoy.”