The Holy Grail of game developers in the 90s.
Today we make a big fuss of the indie developers when really, that’s the way it used to be for much of the 90s. Publishers were still fairly small and were willing to take risks, as were the developers. Back then, if you wanted to make a game, you had no choice but to code the shit out of it, sometimes in Assembler if you wanted to squeeze more performance out of the boxes of the day. It was a long road to glory, paved with pointer errors. Today any dev can pick up an authorware package and shit something out with minimal effort, which has birthed an indie scene filled with template games of little to no substance. Just look at the pile of shit BuildBox 2 – nothing but templates and it costs a fortune! To be fair, there are plenty of good authorware packages today that are capable of fantastic things (like Unity, the current king of the lot) but there’s an awful lot of trash too.
Back in the 90s, when I was a kid, I wanted to make my own games more than anything else. And to my credit, I did start learning programming in the late 90s – this is after making my own Duke Nukem 3D maps for my friends. Long story short, I never made much of note – until I discovered Klik & Play. Actually, I still didn’t make anything of note.
What was it?
Klik & Play (KnP) was a game development authorware package from the mid to late 90s. It was billed as an easy way to make games with no programming required! This was a pretty big thing back then and was a major selling point – programming was an arcane, dark art, and even if you could code, there weren’t many shortcuts around at the time. A package like KnP was a pretty popular concept, and it kickstarted a new industry of authorware packages, also known as Rapid Application Development packages. It was released in 1994 as a Win 3.11 16bit package.
Its successor, The Games Factory (TGF) is one of the more popular packages and was released in 1998 with 32bit support. Functionally, it’s the same as KnP but with a few enhancements. Realistically, to speak of one is to speak of the other – they both work the same way and TGF’s differences are mostly in extra features rather than being an overhaul. Both were aimed at game developers and had a vibrant community that formed around them.
The concept of the packages was simple – provide a visual interface for people to drop down images, and use a simple event based logic system to power the game. If you’ve used Construct 2, you’d be familiar with the concept. The engine watches out for particular events – say a collision between two objects, or a keypress – and then executes an action in response. For example, if the player object collides with an enemy, it might end the level and subtract a life. This was a very simple way to do basic game logic that would take quite a bit of time to code by hand – hence why the software was quite popular at the time.
They supported animated 2D graphics, sounds, MIDI files, CD Music (in TGF at least), and could be extended by developers through a plugin system. It really didn’t take much effort to get a basic game running – there was already quite a bit of pre-baked logic. There were movement options for keyboard or mouse input, a very basic platforming engine, logic for objects to follow a path, or for a racing car-style movement with friction. I’m glossing over quite a few features, but that’s the basics of it – it provided you with a lot of pre-defined functions to get you started, and you built the rest of the logic.
Was it any good?
Well, yes and no. Most people remember both as being the spawning grounds of any number of awful games that never should have seen the light of day – amateurish attempts that belitted the programs that birthed them. Think of the worst Game Maker games out there – that’s basically the standard that people came to expect. A lot of people used the bare minimum of effort required to get a functional game, and then figured that it was good enough and let it loose on the internet. And yes, guilty as charged, before you ask.
But if you dug a little deeper, there were some decent games created with these packages. The included examples (not the demos, but the actual games) showed what could be accomplished when someone with talent actually worked at it. If you did most of the logic yourself, and paired it with a talented artist, and took the time to learn how the event engine actually worked, you could create an incredibly good 2D game with much less programming effort than doing it the traditional way. But of course hardly anybody ever did that and a load of trash was released, tainting the name forevermore.
What’s the legacy?
Believe it or not, Klik & Play lives on even today. If you have a copy of Multimedia Fusion 2.5 (the latest in the long line of authorware packages from Clickteam), you’re actually using the same core principles as K&P and TGF. The user interface has changed very little over the years (to the point that it’s like stepping back in time for me), and a lot of the content that comes with it was introduced with TGF or even K&P! I’m not even kidding – so many of the examples are basically the same ones I was pulling apart in the 90s.
There are actually still games being made in MMF 2.5 today, using the same tools that countless others before them used. It’s slowly losing popularity due to packages like Unity taking over, but there are still people out there that use it for their own projects. A significant portion of its market share was lost to products like Unity and Game Maker. Construct 2, which is getting a new release at some undetermined point in the future, use the same sort of event logic engine that has been around since K&P, although it arguably does a better job.
We have Klik and Play to thank for a focus on providing easier tools to cut out a lot of the coding drama for people looking to make games. It popularised the idea of software that could do most of the heavy lifting. It also ushered in a new era of amateurish trashware that ended up making the software appear like a bit of a joke, despite its capabilities.
As for me, I managed to retain all of my old game projects and have a Win98 virtual machine to look at them on. They’re all absolutely terrible, but damn – they were fun to make.