Microsoft’s free Popfly service has offered users the ability click and drag popular web services (such as online video and map services) to create their own mashup services. Popfly has now released a beta version of Game Creator. The service is designed to allow game builders to create fully functional games without writing a single line of code.
Like all of Popfly’s services, users will need a Microsoft Passport and Silverlight to use Game Creator. Silverlight is Microsoft’s answer to Adobe’s Flash. Unlike many Microsoft products, Silverlight it is both cross platform and cross browser. The promise is that Mac users running Firefox will be able to use Popfly to create games as easily as Vista users running Internet Explorer.
Despite the cross-platform nature of Silverlight, this early version of Game Creator seems to work best in Internet Explorer 7. Using other browsers (even older versions of IE), introduced slightly buggy behavior.
Once successfully loaded, Game Creator gives you the choice of creating a game from a large number of templates, or building one totally from scratch. Even for experienced developers, the template option could be a real time saver. Templates are available for racing, action, puzzle, quiz and several other popular game types.
The templates will provide you with a pre-built scene and all the wiring needed for basic user input and score keeping. You job will be to choose a custom background and add characters and actions specific to your game.
As promised, all of this can technically be done without writing any code. Using point and click tools, combined with drop down lists you can easily define custom actions. When it comes time to add characters and enemies, you can choose between a large selection of Microsoft and user provided graphics, or import you own. While you will probably want to create your own eventually, the stock graphics and sound are more than sufficient to get a prototype off the ground. Those that do wish to venture beyond the menu will have the option of adding custom code to any event or element in the game.
Game Creator does make it possible to build a working game without coding. This does not mean it make it easy. When building tools such as Game Creator, developers must often make trade-offs between ease of use and flexibility. Unlike Popfly’s other mashup tools Game Creator has charted a clear course for the flexibility route. Even with the help of templates, Game Creator makes very few choices for you. Creating a working game will require a solid understanding of game design and event driven programming concepts — just not actual coding.
In its current form, Game Creator is probably going to be of most benefit to experienced developers seeking a way to quickly develop games. It is possible that the final version of Game Creator will include more help for fledgling designers. For the time being however, those wanting to learn game design from scratch would be better served by going the traditional route and developing programming skills before taking on game design.