Key Release: GameSalad's HTML5 platform

Key Release: GameSalad's HTML5 platform
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

August 29th 2011 at 5:49PM

Develop continues its profiles of emerging and leading technology

[To read all of Develop's Key Release technology profiles, go here]

What is it?:
  A drag-and-drop development platform
Company: GameSalad
Price: Free (basic) / $499 per year (pro)
www.gamesalad.com

While most tools and game development platforms sell themselves with a jargon filled feature set conceived to woo the most technically literate developers, GameSalad Creator takes a different approach.

It purports to allow designers of any experience level to design, publish and distribute original games, using a drag-and-drop interface that requires no coding.

GameSalad Creator, which has for some time allowed creation of games for various Mac OS platforms using a Mac, is particularly relevant today in the wake of its recent move to support publishing titles using HTML5.

“Since the introduction of the free-to-play model, we have been witnessing a trend from game developers towards a ‘web philosophy’ of customer engagement,” says GameSalad co-founder and chief product officer Michael Agustin of introducing support for HTML5.

“The gaming industry is seeing a shift from building for traditional ‘high value’ hardcore players to the mass market of mobile and social game players, who play games more casually.”

A key strategy from the web industry, suggests Agustin, is to reduce as many barriers to adoption from your product as possible: “These players just don’t want to deal with anything that isn’t friction free. This is why we chose HTML5. Unlike proprietary plug-ins like Silverlight and Flash, HTML games can be played in a web browser from any device, including mobile. HTML5 allows our developers the greatest reach of any distribution technology.”

BACK IN THE DAY

Long before its timely introduction of  HTML5 support, the concept of GameSalad Creator formed early in Agustin’s early career when working as an AI developer, when he began to consider empowering game designers.

“Game designers make hundreds of decisions on a regular basis how to make a game fun and engaging, which may be inherently different from thinking about how to code it,” explains Agustin.

“People outside the industry don’t realise that many game designers are unable to program at all. When I was working in the traditional console games industry, I wrote a visual tool that reduced the time needed to create behaviour for AI-driven characters from 30 days to 30 minutes.”

That tooI took a process involving flowcharts that the designers were already using to describe AI, and subsequently created a technology that compiled that data into state machines that the game engine could immediate play.

“By the end of the project all the designers were using the tool, they did not have to go to a programmer or scripter to implement their ideas,” says Agustin. “They could iterate faster and with more precision than design documents, presentations, or INI files.”

Sometime later Agustin developed a commercial version of that tool, resulting in GameSalad Creator, which is especially suited to building a range of 2D game genres.

ONE FOR ALL

“We founded GameSalad on the premise that game creation should be fun and easy for everyone – not solely relegated to the technically elite,” confirms Agustin. “It sounds lofty, but we want to democratise game design. We can unlock a lot of creativity if the ability to code is no longer a prerequisite for making games.”

Of course, a casual observer could be forgiven for imagining GameSalad is little more that an entry-level tool for those new to the trade of game design. After all, how could a drag-and-drop system allow professionals any substantial level of creative freedom?

Agustin is quick to reply: “Actually for game designers, it is significantly liberating. We work in an industry where the languages we use to make games are languages that most game designers don’t speak. Instead, game designers are forced to communicate indirectly through design documents, presentations, meetings and paper prototypes, in hope that their vision can be accurately implemented.

“Few of these communication tools are interactive, real-time or represent games in the final form in which they will be consumed.”

GameSalad Creator, argues Agustin, has brought the description of a game to a level that more people can understand and in a form professionals use on a regular basis: the graphical user interface.

“Almost any designer can learn drag-and-drop systems. It’s a very natural form of communication,” insists Agustin, before asserting his belief that GameSalad Creator is a powerful platform that can empower professional designers.

Certainly, so far GameSalad has enabled thousands of games to be published commercially as native iPhone, iPad and Mac desktop Apps to the App Store.