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GameMaker: Game Design Engine Worth Knowing

Written by Tom FronczakAugust 18, 2011
Did you know... Historically, The Digital Animation & Visual Effects School (DAVE School at Universal Studios Orlando) has placed a fair number of its graduates in the gaming industry, but now they have a new program specifically designed for careers in gaming. The program was designed and is overseen by a senior production supervisor who led teams on Ghostbusters and Kinect Star Wars. Learn more at www.DaveSchool.com.
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GameMaker is about as easy as it gets for an artist who wants to make a game. Tell the program what sprite image is your character, how it can move and act, add some sound files, and then build the game world block by block. It’s not only limited to side or top down 2D creations, but it does encourage that style. You’ll still need a basic understanding of variables and other math fundamentals, but the difference is that you can learn it all in one night instead of spending countless hours reading before actually creating anything that’s worth playing. For the artists out there who are terrified of coding, keep reading and you’ll have your first game in no time!

Introduction to Coding

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GameMaker language (GML) is one of the easiest programming languages out there for creating a game, but if math is notoriously your worst subject, then you’ll definitely want to try the free Lite version before investing in the full version. Luckily, you can accomplish a lot in one night inside GameMaker with a few tutorials, so you should know quickly if you’re in trouble or not.

GameMaker is primarily used for 2D game creations, but it has a lot of flexibility with game design, which can be bad or good depending on what you need. Its interface hides most of the coding involved and lets users input data rather than write lines of code, but those who want to dive into coding can do so in advanced areas of the program. If you’re not shy with programming then you can customize your creation into many genres, but if you are afraid to program then you’re mostly restricted to sidescroller and top down perspective games.

GameMaker Requirements

Before you even start designing your game on paper or creating the digital art, it’s important to first make sure you have the proper computer equipment to create a game. GameMaker users will need Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 as their operating system with a Pentium or equivalent processor. They’ll also need a DirectX 8 (or better) compatible graphics card with at least 32 MB of video memory, as well as a DirectX 8 (or better) compatible sound card with 156 MB of memory or greater. Lastly and easiest of them all, users will also need 800x600 or greater screen resolution with 16-bit or 32-bit colors. As for Mac users, you will need an Intel Mac that runs Mac OS Leopard v10.5 or Snow Leopard v10.6.

GameMaker Standard & GameMaker Lite

Before creating your first game, you first need to decide which product is best for you. GameMaker Lite is free to download but is missing a few features that might concern you if you project is ambitious. Here are the features that are missing in GameMaker Lite, but are present in the Standard version:

  • Modify resources in real time (sprites, backgrounds, paths, etc.)
  • Particle effects and 3D graphics
  • Full screen mode and anti-aliasing
  • 3D hardware acceleration
  • Off screen surfaces (for rendering dynamic textures)
  • Advanced text drawing (rotation, etc.)
  • Built in data structures (stacks, lists, dictionaries, queues, etc.)
  • Extensions (using custom external DLLs)

GameMaker Lite also adds a watermark on all your creations, so it’s not ideal for professional use. The good news is that GameMaker Standard (GameMaker 8.1) is very affordable at $40.

GameMaker HTML5

Although it’s not currently available, YoYo Games is scheduled to release GameMaker for HTML5 before the end of 2011. With it, users will be able to create Web browser games instead of just .exe files for your creations. Think about the possibility of sharing your game with the entire Internet! Here are key features to expect with its release:

  • Drag and drop web development. Internal image editor.
  • Internal code editor with user definable syntax coloring.
  • Preloaded with freeware images and sounds.
  • Highly flexible scripting language for advanced users. Built in zooming level editor.
  • Includes advanced features like paths, timelines and flexible font control.
  • GameMaker Team collaboration feature.
  • Suitable for creating Games and other animated content. Call external JavaScript libraries.
  • Games will run in HTML5 compatible browsers without plugins.
  • Deploy on the web server of your choosing.

The GameMaker Community is thriving online, so be sure to check it out for any other questions you might have. If you’re ready to buy the full product or try out the free Lite version, then you can do so here.