Want to Make a Game This Weekend? Here's How to Pick the Right Tool for the Job!
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
This weekend I'm going to try participating in a super-informal online game jam, The Pulse Pounding Heart Stopping Dating Sim Jam to be specific. If you're unfamiliar, a game jam is an event where a bunch of people basically make as much of a game as they can from start to finish in a very limited time frame, then share the results.
Now obviously I'm no game developer. I can barely string together the code necessary to make a competently formatted blog post for you folks to read, so how could I possibly expect to make a game in just a weekend? It's really all about knowing your options. If you want to try your hand at making a game of your own, here are my suggestions on how to pick the perfect DIY game making toolbox for your needs:
If you want to keep it simple, try inklewriter
inklewriter (web-based) lets you make a fairly straightforward choose-your-own-adventure style e-book. I've mentioned Emily Gera's Congratulations, You Are Now A Kotaku Commenter before, but it's a pretty good demonstration of what this platform is capable of. Even if you don't want to make your final game there, it's a good way to draft your dialogue trees and get a feel for how your game will play before you plug it all in to something more complex.
If you want to keep it a little less simple, try Twine
Twine's (Mac & Windows) default templates don't have much more to them than inklewriter, but if you're willing to dip your toes into a little bit of coding there's a lot of potential to reshape your final product. Twine is very popular now (even journalists like Leigh Alexander are giving it a shot) though my favorite Twine product by far is still Christine Love's Even Cowgirls Bleed, both for it's complete revamp of Twine's visual output and its clever use of mouse controls to enhance the story. Twine exports its games as webpages essentially, so if you go this route make sure you've got somewhere to host it.
If you want a slightly more visual (and even social) space within your game, try dio
I've written several rather cynical articles about dio (web-based) in the past, but in spite of that I do think it's a very interesting tool and one that more people who are in to visual novel gameplay really should examine. When I see people making fairly complicated games in Twine, for example, I often want to nudge them towards dio instead. The ability to chat with others playing a "room" is nice, but for me what makes dio interesting is how easy it is to import art and other visual assets to make your story more than a wall of text. The intuitive nature of creating interactive objects in the room is also something that sets dio aside, and like the other platforms I've mentioned so far it requires no real coding. If any of that sounds appealing, I'd recommend checking out Down the Rabbit Hole, a great example of what dio's capable of.
If you want a more traditional dating sim experience (and aren't afraid of a little coding), try Ren'Py
Ren'Py (Mac, Windows & Linux) is my engine of choice both because of its versatility and because of the helpful community and abundance of documentation available for it. I made a (kind of lame) Skyrim mini-quest a couple months ago to learn Ren'Py, which uses a blend of homebrew and Python coding, and I was surprised at how easy it was to pick up considering that (unlike the previous platforms I mentioned) there is no editing tool. It's just you and a text file full of code... But it's not nearly as daunting as it sounds. If you want to do more complicated things the coding side will of course get more complicated, but it does a great job of making the more core functions streamlined and easy to master.
If you want a similar end result but the coding required in Ren'Py is a bit too intimidating for you, you should check out Novelty (Windows only) instead. I haven't tried Novelty myself but it looks like a pretty promising WYSIWYG tool for getting that familiar dating sim look without the complexities/intricacies of Ren'Py.
If you want fights, exploration, and action, try RPG Maker
RPG Maker (Windows only) is... Well, it's exactly what it sounds like. Though Ren'Py can have combat, inventory and exploration, those systems can be very complicated to implement, so if those things interest you this may be a better alternative. RPG Maker also comes with tons of assets including character creations tools and even allows for some coding, so its a great option for new and advanced game DIYers alike. Though the full version (along with packs that let you change the environment) can be relatively pricey, you can get a limited free version on Steam that should have more than enough to keep you happy for a weekend project like this.
Ultimately you've got to pick the right tool for the right job. Don't bog yourself down with art and music and coding if you don't need to, but don't be afraid to take a risk on something that seems intimidating if you want to push your limits, and the limits of your project.
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Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.