Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Let there be games...

Beyond merely playing a game, the thrust of user interaction for the last couple of years seems to be on level modification and skinning. A few games, most notably Neverwinter Nights, have allowed almost complete control over creating new storylines and new worlds.

But what about actually creating games from scratch? Coming up with an original game idea and making it work, if you're not a programmer, can be an intimidating thought. From what I understand, it can be pretty daunting even if you are a programmer.

Over the last few years, a handful of programs have been published that try to help the common, every-day gamer get past the 'intimidation' factor and create their own games to play and share with friends.

One of the earliest was SSI's Wargame Construction Set. Released in 1986 (and incidentally, one of the oldest titles in my collection), it used a tile-based keyboard-driven interface and allowed you a fair amount of flexibility when it came to creating units. The graphics left something to be desired, and good luck getting it to run on a modern rig (perhaps DOSBox?), but it was the first chance a lot of players had to put their dreams on the screen.

A few years later, Klik & Play gained some popularity. I even seem to recall PC Gamer releasing some Klik & Play stuff on their demo CD's. Europress Software came out with it in 1994, and it gave users an introduction to object-oriented programming, but kept it simple enough to be approachable by non-programmers. Wired Magazine gave it a decent review back in 95, where they highlighted one of its major shortfalls: it just wasn't powerful enough to create Doom clones, which was, of course, what everybody wanted to create. Still, it did a great job of platform and arcade-style games, and allowed importing of graphics and sound files. It was mouse-driven, too, which was a great improvement (in my eyes) over the Wargame Construction Set. And if you follow the link above to Clickteam's website, you can find an 'education' version available for download. Again, you may have problems running it under XP, but it's worth a shot.

And finally, we come to RPG Maker 2000, which I briefly played around with a couple of years ago. With a strong flavor of the early Final Fantasy-type RPGs, you also get the ability to import custom chipsets, midi files, and character sprites to make a well-rounded, completely customized RPG. I found the learning curve to be a little steeper than I would have liked, being a non-programmer, but there are (or were) plenty of online tutorials out there that walk you through every step of the process. RM2K has had a couple of updates over the years (RPG Maker 2003 and RPG Maker XP), which seem to expand on the original program without changing the overall feel, but I can't speak of that firsthand -- I've not yet played around with the newer iterations.

Of course, there are plenty more game creation tools out there. More than I could hope to play around with, actually. So let me know -- what's good? What have you tried and liked, and which ones should be avoided? How easy are they for non-programmers to get into? And most importantly, is game creation still popular with players, or has everybody jumped on the modding bandwagon?

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