Saturday, October 12, 2013

Chronology, Continued

Okay, so as I mentioned in the previous post, I've decided to do what I was considering in the edited-in final paragraph of the last chronology post, and work with a new program and an old program simultaneously. Based on some further thoughts and a comment to that post, though, I think some refinement and clarification may be in order.

I started looking at GameMaker—post forthcoming probably in a day or two—and I was surprised at just how much it allows the user to customize about a game, but of course, given the time when it was created, the size of a game that can be created with it is limited. It occurred to me, then, that this introduces a possible hitch in my plans to work with an old and new system simultaneously. Assuming I spend comparable amounts of time with 001 and GameMaker, I'm going to finish a game with GameMaker a lot sooner. Even if its tools are much clunkier and time-consuming to use (which, given how early it was made, they may well be), that's likely to be more than made up for by the fact that I just won't be able to create a very large game with it. With 001, on the other hand, I expect to be able to create a much more extensive game, and since I can, I plan to. This means by the time I get done creating a game with GameMaker, I'll almost certainly still be working on the game I'm creating with 001.

This isn't a problem, per se, but it does leave me with several options. At least five of them come to mind, and I'm going to go ahead and list them even though I've already decided which one to go with and the others were never really under serious consideration. One is to just not create as large a game with 001 as I could; to limit myself to a small game just to try out the engine. Another is to move on from 001 as soon as I'm done with GameMaker, possibly to come back to it later but starting on a different system for now. Still another is to play the two concurrently until I finish with GameMaker, and then to just focus on 001 from then on. Or I could make multiple games with GameMaker, just keep working with it and see how many games I can create with it in the time it takes me to create one good game with 001. But none of those choices really appeals to me; what I'm going with is the fifth choice: after I finish GameMaker, I'll start in with a different old system while still working with 001.

Accordingly, I've been going through my master list of game creation programs and trying to pin dates on them (as well as adding a few other programs to the list as I run across them). As mentioned before, this is a little iffy because some of them were gradually developed and updated over many years, but for now I'm going with the year they were first released. (I'll post this updated list when I'm done with it, which may or may not be before the First Impressions post on GameMaker.) I don't know if I'll be able to go with another old multigenre game creation program after GameMaker, just because I don't know if there were any other old multigenre game creation programs aside from GameMaker; such programs seem to have been relatively few and far between in those days... so after GameMaker I may just be taking old game creation programs in chronological order, regardless of genre. So far, the oldest game creation program I've found is Eamon (1980), followed by The Arcade Machine and Genesis: The Adventure Creator (both 1982), but I'm not done dating all the programs on the list yet, and it's not impossible I may find one that's older.

So that's the current plan... I'll be working with an old and a new game creation program concurrently, but after GameMaker I'll be taking the old programs in chronological order, and given their limitations I'll probably finish with several old programs in the time it takes to finish one new. This may mean I run out of "old" programs (depending on just how one defines "old") while I still have new programs to work with, but that's not a problem; it means I'll have more context for the newer programs, after all, and it'll be good to have the old programs out of the way. (Though, honestly, there are still enough of them that it'll be a while before this becomes a concern.)

I plan, incidentally, on putting a sidebar on the upper right of the page with the list of all the game creation programs I've tried out so far, in chronological order, with the year they were first released. I haven't done it yet because, well, with only one program it seems premature. I think I'll wait till I'm on the third program at least.

There's one more thing I want to clarify, though; reader comments on the first chronology post seem to imply that readers assumed I was planning on trying to make the ''same game'' in an old and a new program—or at least similar games, with list of features I would implement if possible depending on the program's capabilities. I can see how that would seem to be a reasonable assumption. After all, if I'm going to be comparing the programs' potentials, shouldn't I control for as many variables as possible; shouldn't I make sure I have a level playing field? Wouldn't therefore be the best way to proceed be to have the same game in mind to make with each system, and see which one allows me to come closer to my intent?

Well... maybe not. Different game creation systems, even for games within the same genre, often have different strengths and specialities, and are better suited to different types of games. If I have a particular game in mind in advance when trying out new systems, it may be that one system better lends itself to that particular concept, and what I have planned is well implemented in that system... though there are other things that are better implemented in another that just doesn't happen to have those specific features. It may be then that I end up with a game closer to my intentions with one system, and a better experience with that system, not because it's an intrinsically better system but simply by chance, because I happened to have chosen features that that system does well rather than other equally desirable features that are done as well or better in another. It may lead to a fairer assessment if I don't try to cram a game planned a priori into the system, but rather try to suss out the system's strengths before I start, and tailor the game to those strengths.

There's also, of course, the matter of my intended policy to use any resources provided with the system. Suppose one system provides a bunch of typical fantasy monsters and items in its default resource set, while another for the same genre of game focuses more on science fiction. I'm not reasonably going to be able to create the same game with these two very different resource sets. Even if they aren't so radically different, it's not necessarily likely that any game's resource set will happen to mesh well with a game concept I've planned in advance. Again, I think it's more fair to the game system to plan the game around the system's capabilities and resources, not try to shoehorn them into a game concept I've already decided on.

But there's a still more fundamental reason I don't want to try to make the same game with multiple systems. Part of the purpose of this blog is to compare the abilities and interfaces of different game systems, yes. But honestly, part of it, too, is to give me an excuse to make games (while feeling like I have some chance of convincing myself I'm doing something productive). And I want to make a lot of different games. I don't want to just make the same game over and over. And really, readers might get bored with seeing the same game made over and over, too.

So, when I say I'm going to use different game creation programs concurrently, I don't mean I'm going to use them to make the same game (or as similar as I can manage). Having looked over the basic capabilities of 001 and GameMaker, I've already decided on the basics of the games I want to create with each one, and they're pretty different. But even (or especially) by making different games with each system, I still think I'll be able to get a feel for the systems' workings and capabilities.

And if all goes as planned, as I get further into this blog and work with more game systems, I'll have an increasing pile of nifty games to show for it, too. We'll see how it works out.

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