Would you like to make a game? Y/N
Do you know what I wanted to be when I was small? A policeman. So how the hell did I end up being a nurse/paramedic? Not really sure, if I figure it out I’ll get back to you. But when I was in my early teens I wanted to make video games. Honestly, what kid at 12 with an interest in computers hasn’t wanted to make a game? I think it’s something that kids just do, sort of an extension of inventing playground games, or writing illustrated stories consisting of gratuitous violence and convenient plot endings. I became obsessed with so-called “authorware” packages which took a lot of the effort out of making games. Call it lazy, but really if you’re doing something simple I see no reason to reinvent the wheel, and technically something like Unity is an authorware package and look for far that rabbit hole goes! The one I remember most vividly was The Games Factory, a 32bit game making program which was my gateway to game development. I still have all (well, most) of my old projects from 1999 to 2001. They’re all horrifically bad, but they’re also a time capsule in a way (especially since some of them captured my 12 year old voice, one of only a few instances). Ever since then I’ve dabbled in game development, though I never released anything outside of my own circle of friends. This cumulated with a series of FPS games similar to Blake Stone developed with Game Maker, as well as a fairly decent recreation of Wolfenstein 3D in Unity. Actually I have a half-decent recreation of Blake Stone in GM Studio, just to see if I could manage it.
Of course I lack the time to really get heavily involved in game development these days, and I traded learning programming for learning to save lives. But I’m always on the lookout for new developments in authorware packages. While “real” developers will call it lazy, personally I think that anything that lowers the barrier of entry into game development and allows non-coders to realise their dreams isn’t a bad thing. Unfortunately it will lead to a glut of trash but by and large it’s a positive thing. CraftStudio is the latest in the line of authorware packages… with comparisons to Minecraft that are impossible to ignore. Since I couldn’t get Entombed Enhanced to work under Win98 in Vmware, I had to go with this article instead. Sorry.
So what is CraftStudio? It’s an authorware package for making games or interactive animations. That’s a slight oversimplification in that it’s also designed to be a collaborative tool, making it easy for people to work together on a single project, including its own form of version control. It’s relatively clever how seamless the integration is, unlike for example GM Studio where it’s an outright mess (and often breaks because haha life sucks). You don’t have to enlist help, you can work solo if you like, but should you get friends interested in helping out (or if you want to throw it open to the community because you fear nothing) it’s easy to open it up.
CraftStudio gives you a 3D canvas to work on, capitalising on the visuals established by Minecraft. This means “voxel” terrain made up of cubes, along with blocky world models. If you’re not into those sorts of aesthetics then this isn’t going to be too exciting, but as a side effect it does make things like modelling and map editing a lot less complicated. When you’re building things out of nothing but rotated and scaled cubes you can remove a lot of the difficulty from 3D modelling. That’s great for someone like me, who is abysmal at modelling. But I also quite enjoy it for map editing. One thing I hated when I dabbled with Unity was that the only good way to do levels was to make them in a 3D modelling app and use a texture atlas, which required very creative UV mapping. It’s a mess, it’s a pain in the arse, and although there are easier methods they don’t compare in terms of performance benefits. CraftStudio’s simple aesthetics actually help it to overcome these problems.
Making maps is basically like developing a tileset and then building like you would in Minecraft. You don’t need external programs if you don’t want to use them – you can paint textures within CraftStudio though the UI needs significant improvements for colour selection before this will really work out well. From there you dump down blocks like it’s Minecraft, except blocks don’t have to be cubes. You can have stairs, “panes” (think window panes), slabs, and even slopes. It’s pretty slick and works quite well.
The 3D modeller is fairly rudimentary but its simplicity is also a bit of an asset. 3D modelling, even if your project is just made out of a bunch of cubes, can be a pain in the arse, particularly when it comes time for UV mapping. CraftStudio’s modelling app allows you to place a bunch of cubes and edit them in various ways (provided they stay as cubes – no cutting faces or triangles here). You can arrange them into a hierarchy to bind things together (e.g. binding legs to the pelvis or whatever) and animate them accordingly. The greatest strength, which also applies to tileset editing, is the small UV editor. Apart from easily letting you set out your UV map with snapping and appropriate texture sizes, you can also clearly see what faces on the map belong with each face on the model, along with a real-time display of the texture applied to the model while you paint on it. If you’ve learned to be creative with UV mapping you can also completely rearrange the UV map as you see fit through custom mapping. This also means you can use UV maps from something like a Minecraft character with ease. It’s fantastic!
I haven’t played much with the scripting element because the free version (more in a sec) doesn’t allow you to actually run any of your creations – you can play around with the editor as much as you like but running your creation isn’t allowed. Which kind of defeats the purpose of a trial. I can totally understand not exporting to an exe or HTML5 or whatever, but not being able to test something? Really? I hope this is a bug or just a temporary problem, because it’s a bit hard to gauge the limits if you can’t make up a quick test scene. From what I see though the script editor offers a traditional scripting language along with a visual scripting environment, where you arrange blocks of code into various states, which looks pretty intuitive if you have a bit of an idea of how games work. Is it like The Games Factory where you can make things without reading? No. But it’s still a lot easier than crawling through Unity documentation for example.
There are quite a few demonstration titles that you can run from CraftStudio though to get an idea of what people are doing with the kit, and it’s actually quite impressive. Most of them are little more than simple demonstration games but they do demonstrate there’s enough scope there for various game types. Doomsday Carrot is a top-down shooter for example that fits into 4MB, and demonstrates how relatively simple it is to make a shooter like Shadowgrounds. Porte par le Vent is French for… something, I don’t know, but demonstrates a simple flight model by having you fly a paper aeroplane and RC plane through various hoops… and I gotta say, I kind of liked the pixel school environment. CraftFighter, weighing in at 43MB, is a simple fighting game but demonstrates the use of menus and apparently 360 controller support. Beach Please meanwhile is one of those Defender-style games where you sit in a little bunker and fight off waves of tourists. Can’t think of what it reminds me of, something from the 2000s where you played as a defence gunner or something. Nope, it’s gone. There’s also CraftStudioKart, a basic techdemo showing you how a racing-style game might work (similar to Skyroads – i.e. no opponents).
So what to make of CraftStudio… what to make of it indeed? It’s oddly compelling, and it’s still in beta which means that its current capabilities may not reflect its true potential. Since I haven’t really had a chance to play with scripting (because I can’t in the free version) it’s hard to tell where the boundaries are, but the demonstration projects hint at greatness. The aesthetic won’t please everyone but it does help make modelling and map editing much easier, and would probably suit small teams much better. Overall I’m quite impressed, if only with content creation. I think the UI still has a long way to go, particularly if the painting tool is ever to be of any use (colour selection is way too cumbersome) but it’s an excellent start, and there does seem to be quite a bit of flexibility present. If you’ve got an interest in making games it’s definitely worth watching. For an indie studio intending to sell games I don’t think it’ll gain much traction (Unity or UDK are the gold standards for authorware there) but for general home developers looking to make a game and who lack coding knowledge may benefit from this.
CraftStudio has a free download which lets you play with all the editors, but will not let you compile or run the game or let you really do anything with scripting. The Beta Supporter version allows all of this, along with exporting the game to EXE format. You’ll need to register an account to use the software but it also works offline. Currently you can get a Premium account (once-off payment with free updates) for 20 euros, which is about $25.50 AUD at the time of writing. Once the beta ends the price will go up.