Nothing defines a developer’s game more than the tools they use. Tools, as well as your experience with them, define what you can and cannot do. Can’t use Blender to make 3D models? Looks like you’re going to have to do it in 2D. Don’t have Photoshop? Looks like you’re going to have to make those textures with GIMP. Can’t program? Then looks like its Unreal or Construct 2 for you. Whilst these are very big decisions, we also can’t forget about the small ones. Familiarity with our game engines can speed up or slow down the day-to-day creation of our games and can make the difference between the life and death of features, games, or even game companies.
Tools, then, are the essence of game development.
Game development is incredibly complicated, and it doesn’t help that the tools we use to create them are equally complex. Learning how to use even a basic game engine can take many days, and even after doing so can still provide you with little reward. It’s this tool difficulty which, I believe, limits gaming’s artistic growth.
In order for games to expand in different ways, we need far easier tools: tools which someone with limited technological experience can use.
Of course, some tasks require an incredible amount of depth and complexity and I’m not arguing that AAA tools be converted overnight to something far more simplistic, however I do believe there is a big section of the market which could benefit from something easier to use.
I’m a solo game developer; my game engine of choice is Construct 2. Why? Because unfortunately my programming skills are lacking (as are my artistic skills), so the time it would take me to learn an engine is time I can’t spare, especially as I also work on the game’s art, sound, design and writing. And even with Construct 2, I still struggled during development for my recently released game, The Empty Inn.
But without Construct 2, and the other easy-to-use tools that I used during my development, The Empty Inn wouldn’t even exist.
The game industry is in dire need of game engines, 3D modelling software and level design tools, which are easy to learn and quick to use for new comers. These tools don’t have to be state of the art. Indie’s don’t need fantastically wondrous lighting engines, but they do need to be usable and have understandable interfaces and programming languages.
Construct 2, is in my eyes, one such game engine. It’s easy to learn, and creating basic games with it such as shoot-em-ups and platformers, can be done in mere minutes. But even underneath its simplicity, the game engine has a lot of depth, enabling developers who dig deeper to create something original, unique and entertaining.
Unfortunately this comes at a cost. In some areas Construct 2 struggles, especially for PC development. But having short-comings and existing is better than not having short-comings and not existing, and I’m very thankful that Construct 2 exists.
There are a few other engines in the same vein as Construct 2, and I believe the audience for these engines will continue to expand as more game developers with less formal education and experience get into the industry.
Not everyone grew up with computers in their house, painting palettes or musical instruments upon which to practice. Some may have only discovered video games recently, unable to get up to speed with the latest tools, yet still wanting to contribute something to the world of gaming. We need to ensure that these people can be catered for, because they might well open different artistic doors through their varied background and understanding of other things unrelated to games.
But how are they supposed to do that when game development requires extensive knowledge of C#, C++ or any other manor of foreign programming language? How are they supposed to bring their ideas to life when opening up Blender or 3DS Max feels like staring into world full of sci-fi technology?
As game developers we take the complexity for granted. We forget what it’s like for a newcomer, approaching our tools for the first time.
Instead of giving painters a brush, why can’t we give them a 3D modelling tool? Instead of a poet using pencil and paper, why don’t we give them a game engine? With game development becoming more approachable we can not only get people from other medias trying new things, but also give those who have always dreamed of creating games a chance to go ahead and do so.
Of course, this could lead to an oversaturation of low quality games. However, if we can get more people into games development and make it more accessible then we could experience huge shifts in the gaming medium and change the face of games as we know it. Cultures which we previously had no connection to can be shown to us, and lifestyles which we may not have realised existed presented to us in a new way, through new genres.
People complain about how hard it is come up with an original game, when really what they mean is that it’s hard to come with an original game within our current confines. For example: we still haven’t got the gaming equivalent of a rom-com or romance novel. Slice-of-life dramas and historic documentaries still continue to elude our industry. And that’s just looking at a few of the genres currently available through film and books.
When we speak of making video games more diverse, we need to focus not just on the people. They are only one aspect. We need to focus on the tools on we give them, and ensure that what we give them can unlock all of their capabilities.