GM20 Interviews

GM20 Interviews


What inspired you to make what is now known as GameMaker

Although my university work was rather theoretical I was always also writing software. And I was in particular interested in creating software that was very easy to use and would spark creativity. My first "product" along these lines was Drawing for Children where my challenge was to create an interface to a drawing program for young children that could not yet read (realize that this was around 1995). After that, I wrote Drape which was a programmable drawing program. You composed programs using drag-and-drop (sounds familiar?) that would make drawings. This has actually been used in many schools. But I realized that kids wanted more than drawing. So I decided to create something with which kids could create games. My own children were my first target audience, although they never used it much. B.t.w. it was called Game Maker from the first moment it was released.

In the early days, what did you envisage for its future?

Not much. It was just a hobby project. No commercial ideas whatsoever. I was really surprised when it did actually started to become so popular. I guess the name helped a lot. People were searching for something to make games with and ended up with GameMaker. And of course, it helped that it initially was completely free. But it did take a couple of years, and many improved versions, before this popularity started to happen. If I would have started with the goal to make something very popular I would probably have given up at some stage.

GM is now used to teach students the rudiments of coding, how did you originally use it in teaching?

GM was not meant to teach coding for students. It was meant to encourage creativity and give kids some feeling about what computer science could do. It was meant to spark interest. Not to teach something. I started using GM at some stage in my Game Design courses. But not to teach coding but to give my students an easy way to experiment with their creativity in game design. How did GameMaker change your life? Initially not much. My interest in games and game technology was not created because of GM. It was more the other way around. But when GM became popular something changed. I was doing something that really inspired people all around the world. And it made me much more entrepreneurial than I had ever been. Even though it would still take a couple of years, in the end it led me to quit university and create several companies.

Do you still hear from the GameMaker community?

Not really. Although from time to time I get a mail from somebody thanking me for creating GM and in this way kickstartring their career in game development or computer science. That is always great to hear. But I am not much involved in the game industry anymore.

When you first created GameMaker in 1999, lots of 2D games were still being made, but the industry was very much shifting to 3D titles. Did you imagine 2D games would have such a resurgence?

I always believed in 2D being the best way to express your game creativity. 3D is just too hard for most people and takes way more work. And 3D often actually restricts you in your creative expression. So I am not surprised at all. Since 3D gaming was becoming so popular in the late 90s / early 2000s, did you think of (hat is now known as) GameMaker as being primarily a learning tool for students before they transitioned into working in the games industry? Or was the goal to prepare students with coding skills. GM was meant as a way to encourage creativity, combined with technology. The hope was that it would inspire more kids to study computer science, not so much game technology.

Do you still make any games on GameMaker? What GameMaker titles have you been most impressed with?

No, I don't. Actually, since two years, I have completely stopped writing code in any way. Before that, in my company Tingly Games, I did create some casual games, but with a different system we developed. (Tingly Games is now part of CoolGames.) It is impossible to point to games I have been most impressed with. Sometimes, something small and nameless, created by an 8-year old, is way more impressive than one of the big game titles.

Your background is in academia specialising in computational geometry and robotics, so have games been a small part of your career overall? What inspired you to get into game development in the first place?

When I was young there were no computer games. I got interested while being in college but the means were minimal (using punch cards for programming). Only when the Atari ST came out in 1985 did I really get interested in games. I created some quite popular games, did game reviews for a magazine, and even wrote a paper on game design. But this was all just a hobby. In 2000 (when GM was already available) I also got more interested in games from an academic point of view. First primarily for education, because it brought so many different aspects of computer science together. But then also as a research area, leading to the 20 million euro research project GATE that I led, starting in 2006. I then also got more and more involved in the Dutch game industry, with various companies, all the way through until 2 years ago. So, yes, it did play a major part in my life.

Do you play a lot of games yourself? Can you tell us some of your favourite games made with GM, or games that have inspired you on your development path?

I regularly play games. In particular role-playing games and puzzle games. At the moment I play AxE (Alliance versus Empire) but I will soon switch to a new game I think. When I play such games I tend to be pretty fanatical. E.g. in AxE I am in the top-5 in our server. From the playing perspective I am actually not much of an Indie guy and many great GM games are Indie games.


How has the perception of GameMaker changed over the many iterations?

Education has always been a big part of the heart and soul of GameMaker as that’s where it started. As it has developed over the years and iterations, more recently with YoYo pushing the technology and feature set, the many developers who have persisted with GameMaker have driven the skill ceiling ever upwards. This of course has enabled some fabulous games to be created, as beginners have progressed to hobbyists, and then moved on to running their own studios.

How has GameMaker increased in popularity over the last 20 years?

As can be seen by Global Game Jam’s figures annual figures, GameMaker is the #1 specialist 2D game making tool. While our studio users and long-term community members continue to drive our top-end functionality, they also inspire our new users. Over 1,000 people, every single day sign-up to use GameMaker for the first time, and they are overwhelmingly beginners. We’re really proud to not only have responsibility for cultivating the next generation of game developers, game designers and artists, but to have maintained it for 20 years. The focus in schools on STE(a)M learning (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math(s) has provoked a huge interest in using game design to teach children how to code, and this coincided with the launch of GameMaker Studio 2, over the last three years we have seen annual growth rates of 50%+ in our education program. We now have thousands of schools across the Globe using GameMaker. Primarily because it’s a fun way to learn for teachers and students alike.

What are some of the most important new features that have been added to GameMaker over the last two decades?

The one thing that stands out is the ability to export your game to multiple platforms from a single code base. You just make your game, once in GameMaker and then you can export that game to Nintendo Switch, XboxOne, PS4, iOS, Android, Fire, MacOS, Ubuntu, PC or HTML5, and we do all the heavy lifting and provide all the functionality that you need.

What are your plans for the future of GameMaker?

We will be launching Sequences soon. It will be in Open Beta by the end of the year and available in Spring, and that is going to be a massive leap forward for supporting creative design in GameMaker. We are putting a lot of effort into the top and bottom of GameMaker, and by that we mean making our advanced functionality easy to use for beginners, while providing our top-end developers with the tools to more quickly make amazing 2D games.

How will 2D games development change in the future?

Everything gets better. We see 2D games remaining the prevalent form of games, we see the type of really cool breathtaking games that are currently being made by our top studios, becoming within the reach of the many, because of the democratization through simplification of the tools. We see development cycles shortening and we see our to-end developers taking GameMaker games to a whole new level.

Where does GameMaker’s fit in the games development ecosystems with the likes of Unity and Unreal?

From an altruistic industry perspective, I think we all have a lot to thank each other for. It is without doubt that the massive number of spectacular 3D games made in both Unity and Unreal help to inspire the next generation to explore game development, and that inspiration often manifests itself into starting out with the accessibility of GameMaker in the 2D game dev environment as a way into 3D games and exploring these incredible 3D tools. We have a lot to thank Unity and Unreal for, and I think our role in preparing the next generation of top professionals means they are likely to also feel positively inclined towards GameMaker.

Can you talk about GameMaker’s role in school education?

GameMaker is now used in thousands of schools across the globe, teaching children aged 12-17 how to code and in universities as an art medium and a rapid development tool. We surveyed 150 of our educators at the start of the year, and 74.64% found GameMaker to be somewhat effective or better at improving learning engagement. Individual confidence, Planning and improving the student/teacher bond all scored over 90%. Our role as a formal product for supporting the teaching of coding, taking students from drag and drop to coding is proving very effective and we are delighted to see the rapid growth that we’ve experienced over recent years.

Will you be supporting the next console generation in GameMaker?

We are incredibly enthusiastic about supporting the next generation of consoles and being able to make them available just as fast as we can.


Do you think GameMaker still has a lot of untapped potential, in terms of what devs can do with it?

Sure, the same thing goes for any medium! As making games gets more and more accessible we'll get more people from all walks of life making their art and telling their stories.

How long have you been using GameMaker for? What version did you start with?

I found out about GameMaker in a Dutch magazine called CompuKids in 2001 or so, that was Game Maker 4. Never really looked back since then, still using it.

What advice would you give to a new developer using GameMaker for the first time?

Make really tiny things that are within your capability. If you start out too ambitious you'll take way longer learning than if you finish a ton of smaller projects --> finishing is a skill in itself.

What is your proudest achievement using GameMaker?

The fact that I get to work with so many awesome people on professional games, while still using the software I'm extremely comfortable with. I've come a long way since my very first edit of the Click The Clown tutorial.


What advantages are there to creating Games with GameMaker?

I feel that GameMaker has many advantages but the biggest one for me is that it was super easy to learn! When I decided to start making games with GameMaker, I had no previous background in programming. But with the abundance of video tutorials on YouTube, and GML (GameMaker's programming language) being beginner friendly in general, I was able to get the hang of it quickly and was working on my first prototype in no time. How long have you been using GameMaker for? What version did you start with?

I started with GameMaker: Studio, so that puts me at about 6 years of experience?

What advice would you give to a new developer using GameMaker for the first time?

I'd highly recommend doing the "Game A Week" challenge for a few weeks! This is how I started making games, and it helped me immensely starting out in learning to use GameMaker and also in practising game design.

What is your proudest achievement using GameMaker?

Having made Downwell!


What advantages are there to creating Games with GameMaker?

Game Maker was built from the ground up for the fastest workflow possible for 2D game development, so the biggest advantage GameMaker has is speed. We've been able to make and publish games in under 10 hours, and we even made an MMO in a weekend for a recent game jam. Once you really get the hang of the software, you can move like lightning.

Do you think GameMaker still has a lot of untapped potential, in terms of what devs can do with it?

I don't think GameMaker has untapped potential, but it definitely has undertapped potential. So far, there aren't very many studios using GameMaker to create web-heavy games, MMOs, or online multiplayer games generally. This is generally true across all game engines, though, because web code mixed with game code creates a lot of additional technical and design complexities that most studios have a hard time with. But other than that, GameMaker can do just about anything you want it to, and I've seen developers do just about everything I could possibly think of with it.

How long have you been using GameMaker for? What version did you start with?

I started learning to program in October 2010 using Game Maker 8, so I've just passed my 9-year anniversary of using Game Maker. This was before GameMaker Studio, so I could only export to Windows. But that didn't matter much, because I was just happy to be able to make stuff!

But I think importantly, prior to that, I had dabbled in other engines off and on, and even tried to learn just raw C++ to make games. In all cases, none of them stuck -- I felt like I couldn't really get a foothold on any of them. So I had given up on the idea of being able to make games. But when I found GameMaker, I was suddenly able to do all the things I wanted to do, and it was easily understandable. And that changed the entire trajectory of my life. Without GameMaker, I would be a lawyer right now instead of a game developer. Whew!

What advice would you give to a new developer using GameMaker for the first time?

My advice is to start small and focus on finishing games. My first game was a huge project that I worked on for over a year, and at the end of that year, the game was only 3% finished. My skills and knowledge of Game Maker didn't really start to accelerate until I focused on making a lot of really small games, really fast. Make a game in a week, or a game in a weekend! Finish that game up, and then take the lessons (and scripts) with you into the next game. Over time, you'll quickly build up a library of knowledge about how to execute all kinds of game concepts, and then you can start to blend those together into creating a much larger game.

What is your proudest achievement using GameMaker?

Our current game, Levelhead, is definitely my proudest GameMaker achievement. Levelhead is a platformer with a huge number of unique mechanics and items, with a single-player campaign which currently has 90 levels. But the core focus of the game is the level editor, which lets players build levels and share them with others. And on top of that, we've built a social network into the game, so players can like and favorite levels and follow each other. So basically, we've had to build three totally unique kinds of systems -- strong gameplay, level editor, and social network -- and put them all together into one game. It's been a big challenge and a lot of fun, and we're pumped to get the game fully launched next year!