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GameMaker aims to be the Unity of 2D games with new releases Exclusive
GameMaker aims to be the Unity of 2D games with new releases
September 20, 2012 | By Christian Nutt

Today, the popular 2D development tool GameMaker has announced Windows 8 and Windows 8 Phone support. Windows 8 support for Game Maker: Studio will be available on October 26; Windows Phone 8 support will follow when the devices themselves launch, later this year.

That's just the latest in a raft of improvements that began with the May release of the latest edition of the software, GameMaker: Studio.

"GameMaker's been around a long time," says Sandy Duncan, CEO of Yoyo Games, which acquired the tool in 2006. "Really, we didn't do that much with it for about three years," he admits.

While some significant indie games have been made with the engine, including the original PC versions of Derek Yu's Spelunky and Vlambeer's Super Crate Box, the product was losing steam.

"You look at guys like Derek Yu and Vlambeer, for example," says Duncan. "Those guys have been disappointed, in a way, that we haven't kept the technology moving for them.
We've caught up with them, in a funny way," he says.

The Current State of GameMaker

GameMaker: Studio, which works with OS X and Windows, and which builds to those platforms for no additional charge has been bolstered by $199.99 plug-ins which allow it to build to iOS, Android, and, soon, Windows Phone 8. HTML5 costs $99.99.

The company has also recruited DMA Design co-founders Russell Kay and Mike Dailly to head its tech team.

"What I have is a core of a tech team who are guys not just with games industry experience, but they go back to the point when you had to work hard to get a game to work on different device," says Duncan.

"We now really concentrate and focus on what Studio does." That's a "fast," extensible, 2D-only tool for creating games that even non-coders can use with a mixture of drag-and-drop and scripting.

The affordability of the base tool -- which costs $99.99 if you intend to build commercial games on it -- is what attracts developers. While the company has only sold 5,000 to 6,000 commercial licenses since Studio was launched in May, Duncan estimates "we're adding 1,000 or 2,000 a month."

"Everyone focuses on how to monetize and distribute games," says Duncan, but they miss another key cost: "If it's fast development, it's cheaper."

And the engine also seamlessly builds both native apps and HTML5 versions, too -- "There's nothing in the HTML5 spec that affects games that the developer is exposed to with GameMaker, and so you write your game, you write it whether it's running on anything and it works," he says, sidestepping the issues with the standard (though WebGL is required, meaning its HTML5 games will not work on Internet Explorer.)

The company is now trying to make the tool as simple and transparent as it can for developers, and add options. For example, 11 "dropdown" packages now allow developers to add ads (from various companies) or analytics (from Flurry) to their games.

The Future: "As Big as Unity"

Duncan also promises "better support, more community features, field engineers, tutorials" -- "stuff we've done a bit of, but not enough of."

"We're all about delivering stuff to the devs, because they'll make our business for us if we use the tech," says Duncan.

Though Duncan maintains that Studio has taken big steps since May, the engine isn't quite there yet, so to speak.

Extensions don't work with mobile games, just yet, for example, because "the way that GameMaker compiles today, you would break the iOS rules," but the company plans to implement the Apple-favored LLVM compiler late this year to change that, in a change that should otherwise be transparent for its user base.

It also plans to add support for Ubuntu Linux versions of its games "really soon". Other additions are more airy: "We're pretty interested in smart TV stuff," says Duncan, who notes that "it only takes us a few weeks to move to a new platform."

What won't come is a focus on anything but 2D game development. "We don't attempt to be 3D; we never will be. The simplicity of game making is destroyed when you go to 3D," he says.

Duncan was clearly enthused and optimistic about the rising fortunes of the software package -- he teased a new distribution agreement that will make it "the most vitally used tool by Q1 next year."

By next Christmas, he wagers, "we'd be at least as big as" Unity.

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Raymond Ortgiesen
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MORE cheap easy to learn tools for making games? A man after my own heart.

Debasish Bose
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Hi Raymond,

As a game developer I've found GameMaker frustrating and always used to go for "my own tools" as you guys are saying. Lately I was working on something called Mixow ( A online and simplified version of GameMaker. Here is one example -

My voice sucks, but I'll love to know your thoughts on this. I'm even planning to make the whole editor open source and invite community to build more "behaviors" plugins or custom rules for the game.

Tech wise it's Raphael (No redraw on render, works with IE6+) + SVG + Box2D + newton.js (a tiny 2d game engine - may shift to Cocos2D.js/Crafty.js or whatever)


Chris Hendricks
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I'm glad that they're making a dedicated 2D tool... but I'm always wary of companies that say they'll be "as big as ". More often than not, that means they're trying to be successful by aiming at the wrong target.

k s
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My past experience with game maker was okay but I prefer to build my own tools as they will actually do exactly what I want.

Craig Hauser
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I agree on the building your own tools thing, but when it comes to prototyping 2D games, I've found Game Maker to be invaluable thanks to how quickly I can go from concept to playable game. Assuming that I just use colored squares for stand-in art assets, I can have basic player controls and a test room in the course of an afternoon.

I spend at least a week in Game Maker just throwing around ideas I think would be fun before I even open Visual Studio.

Cordero W
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Game Maker was okay for making little games when I was learning at the age of 12 and for prototyping ideas. But other than that, I've had nothing but bad experiences from their engine. It's choppy and unstable at times.

Christiaan Moleman
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Can't compare the old version with the new really. It's a different piece of software. They're basically rewriting it one part at a time. As the article indicates, they're not done yet, but the improvements so far are promising to say the least.

The Le
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Current version of GameMaker is a thousand times faster than it was just a few years ago. It would be wrong to dismiss GameMaker today because of an older experience you had with it.

Django Zeaman
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Less features, better stability and faster. That's the secret to success for tools like Gamemaker, GameSalad and all the others.

I tried, oh how I tried, but they were just too slow and crashed over and over and over.

Still, I dare hope that they will improve. I'll wait to try them again until I read rave reviews from hundreds of people about the stability and speed. Until then it's just "we're working on that" and "we've got alot of great ideas in the pipeline". Unh-huh.

Pedro Kayatt
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I think COCOS2d-x is the Unity of 2D games... and it's free :P

E Zachary Knight
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I like Moai personally. Its free too and its open source.

Craig Stern
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There was a "Unity of 2D games" before there was Unity--it's called Flash. It still exists. It still kicks GameMaker's ass. Sorry.

Steve Fulton
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Also. Corona is not too bad either...(not perfect though)

James Hofmann
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As much as I use and appreciate Flash... it's still very DIY with respect to gameplay coding. As well, its standard graphics system isn't accelerated, and if you use Stage3D it's another layer of DIY. There are certain aspects of tooling that really benefit a lot from having a dedicated game IDE, and those benefits compound as the tools become more sophisticated.

I would still love to see GM "grow up" a little, but Yoyo has had a poor track record in the past w/r to advancing the product. That said I hope they make good on their current promises.

Adam Bishop
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Flash isn't a game engine (nor is Action Script). Also, one of the big draws of Unity is its cross-platform capabilities. I'm pretty sure you can't put a Flash game on a Playstation.

Rey Samonte
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@James, Although game development in Flash/Actionscript 3 still seems like you have to handle and implement all the lower level functionality, the tools have progressed quite a bit. Using Stage3D to accelerate your 2D games can easily be done through Starling. You also have a free IDE in FlashDevelop that I love using and is much better than trying to use the script editor within Flash. I'm not sure how long it has been since you've used Flash to make games with, but it's gone a long way.

Django Zeaman
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I'll second the vote for Corona.

Chuck Bartholomew
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Ooo! New toy! Nevermind. Resource-limited free version just turned me off.

Leonardo Ferreira
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I have been using lots of Game Maker lately, and sincerely, I think the direction Yoyogames have taken is a little misguided. With the launch of the Studio version, some time ago, not only the price of the most basic version was raised from $25 to $50 with no substancial upgrades, the free version was also severely nerfed, becoming more aof a demo version than a fully working true. Game Maker was intrumental for the estabilishing of the indie scene back in the second half of last decade, but the company website prefers to highlight their own subpar iphone games on the website instead of truly great stuff, like Spelunky, Crate Box or Hydorah.

But on to matters of software; As I see it, Game Maker differential is how it makes solo development easy, thanks to its integration of all the resources of a game with very little fussle. But instead the new versions dilute its potential, because, while its great for prototyping, it cries on longer project development, thanks to its instable engine, poor debug tools, and far too much invisible processes even if you're working with pure code.

Don't get me wrong; Its an incredible tool, easy to learn and incredibly versatile; but there is lots of room for improvement, which was promised to come thick and quick with the 8.1 version, that updates automatically. But no improvements, no even to the interface, were made.

Svein-Gunnar Johansen
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Hydorah is indeed pure awesomez. I am currently experimenting with GameMaker because of that game. Kind of coming to the same conclusions as you regarding Yoyogames and direction, although I am cautiously optimistic of the outcome.

Ian Fisch
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Gamemaker 8 is missing some key features, that it really needs to fix if it's ever going to compete with unity:

1. It needs to be fixed so that variables are initialized before use. Can't tell you how many times I've written something like 'gravityModifeir = gravityModifier * currentWeight + 12' and then didn't understand why gravityModifier never changed.

2. It needs a MUCH better system for collaboration. Basically now, you can't collaborate at all. Needs to integrate with source safe.

3. Needs a much better debugger, with break points.

4. Needs to be compatible with multiple monitors.

If it had those things, I might think about using it instead of Unity, but I'm loving me some Unity.

Josh Gibson
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#1 is a necessity but I don't know when they'll be adding that... #2 they've got a light amount of version control added into GM:Studio now. #3 I think that's coming! #4 I don't even know about this one because... I'm too poor for another monitor right now. I believe they're planning a rewrite of the UI once the new engine becomes more stable, so that's probably when that one will happen...

Christiaan Moleman
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Actually you can't use uninitialized variables since HTML5 and Studio separates resources into individual files within a project folder instead of packing it all into one gmk like before + integrated SVN (apparently adding more options in future).

This may be interesting:

Jonathan Jennings
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Awesome news for my two favorite game engines within the same 24 hour period? fantastic! I was impressed with spelunky and shadow of the game I hope more devs consider game maker a viable game engine commercially because i personally love it and would love to see more 2d games in general but game maker makes development of them much easier.

Samuel Green
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As someone who wants to learn to code, I've found GameMaker combined with a mentor (got a friend who has been using it for years) has really jump-started my experience. I was expecting that in order to make games independently, I'd have to read tons of books and have to learn a language like, well, a linguistic language.

However in the about 16 hours in GameMaker I made a very quick and stupid PvZ style tower defense using the Drag and Drop. I've also started my first real project using GML exclusively and everything is so much fun at the moment. Big week long national holiday coming up so I hope to finish the core gameplay during that time.

It sounds like an awful marketing slogan but game making really has never been so much fun. That's why I like Game Maker. I have no CS background, I stumbled into Game Design through the social space and now I want to make up for lost time and start making prototypes and fun mechanics without years of training. Learning that Spelunky and Super Crate Box were built in Game Maker has just sweetened the pie. I thought it was a toy before, but if you can make critically acclaimed games in it then it's a good enough engine for me.

Until I want to upgrade to something 'proper'

Thomas Grove
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I predict that by next Christmas Unity will be the Unity of 2D games. But, always nice to have options.

Ian Fisch
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Unity has a little more of a learning curve.

For instance, in GameMaker, you can just set the opacity of any object. It's a built-in variable.

In Unity, you have to make sure that your object has a material whose shader allows for transparencies. Then you have to access the material component of your object, then set the alpha. Just as functional, but slightly more complicated.

I still think Unity is incredibly easy to use - and a better engine overall - but GameMaker is easier.

Thomas Grove
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Yea, but I didn't say that Unity will be the GameMaker of 3D games. :)

Robert Carter
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I agree, there is already outstanding help on the asset store for 2D options, and more will come. On top of that, its pretty easy for anyone with knowledge of C# to add what they need into it. No need for engine source code, just expand away!

Personally I prefer XNA for my 2D projects, but I can hardly say its the Unity of 2D since it has no fancy interface to make things easy for artists or people new to C#. XNA with an Editor Window would be a fun project to work on though! :3

Ian Fisch
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Also there's no built-in sprite functionality or tile editor in Unity. The ones available on the Unity store, get the job done, but they're more complicated than the built-in Game Maker sprite editor.

Thomas Grove
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Right... but I said "by next Christmas".

Nooh Ha
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Marmalade is more delicious

Maurício Gomes
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Game Maker need to be not owned by YoYo...

After how they treated me I will never trust them again...

At least, they pushed me to learn Lua, and now I work with Corona and I am proud of it :) (also Novashell, for PC).

Robert Carter
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With tools I and others have created for the Unity Asset Store, Unity is the Unity of 2D ;D

Alex Rose
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Even without them, just with Unify's bogstandard sprite manager script, Unity is the Unity of 2D.

Marc Schaerer
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If they really intend to be 'as big as Unity' then Priority 1 is a OSX editor.
They had one in the past so they know its possible and if they really want to allow iOS devs to do their job there is just no reasonable way around it (that network remote access stuff is inacceptable. Thats even worse than Air to iOS and UDK LLVM cross compile)

Josh Gibson
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I think that's in the pipeline, but the major part that hasn't been rewritten yet is the editor (and the language...). The editor is basically the same editor it's used for years and runs on Delphi. I'm not sure what their plan is on rewriting the editor though.

Martin Edmaier
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Best 2D SDK or tool for me Moai with lua and Glider IDE and Construct 2

Jack Nilssen
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Someone else already said that Unity is the Unity of 2D games. I just say it better.

Spent most of last year building a full 2D game in Unity, and contrary to claims made above the 3rd-party sprite management tools are intuitive, powerful, and fit nicely into the pipeline.

It's also amusing how rapidly last year's outrage over GameMaker has dissipated.

Having said all that, the more tools there are the better for everyone who wants to make a game. Just pointing out that comparisons like this are kinda asinine.

P.S. I'm totally biased.

Marc Schaerer
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Hehe obviously, even your avatar says so by violating copyrights.

As far as Unity and 2D goes: its extremely powerfull. But it still has one major drawback and thats that the subset of PhysX features implemented + the fact that its always 3D and never 2D make it just 'less suitable' for 2D physics titles as its a massive effort to get trivialities like ropes going (its impossible with pure physx as joint chains will overshoot mathematically).
Thats a thing that seriously helps GameMaker but so does it Corona which I consider more powerfull if you do just iOS + Android.
If you do it for all platforms then GameMaker is surely a major player (its the only 2D tech that supports android, ios, soon WP8 as well as html5 canvas and win - osx) and it always had a superb expandability.
Unluckily it lost its major appeal it had under Mark Overmars lead in the old days and thats an unbeatable price. At the current price they have to speed up seriously, in terms of releases and in terms of features and bug freeness. And as mentioned before, naturally also on getting the IDE to osx, without it its worthless as a wanna be iOS - OSX tech for its intended userbase which is obviously 'nonprogrammers'