Tools tools and more tools

May 01, 2009

Where would we be without the tools that give us the ability to make these great games? I remember playing Winter Olympics from Epyx on the Commodore 64, (we called it the Commode 64), and marveling at how they animated the figure skaters using multiple sprites. It was obvious that they had a tool to allow an artist to make the animations and then map them to the sprite definitions.

But do tools also limit us? I've been doing some iPhone development recently and I notice more and more that the SDK's that companies are coming out with are really easy to work with, almost to easy. If a tool or SDK is to easy, then the programmers aren't willing to dive deeper to see what is actually happening. In my iPhone game the player can switch screens with a swipe, pretty neat but its what I call an "automatic" function. Most of the iPhone SDK is like that.

In the waning days of the Atari 2600 I dreamed of coming up with the last great title. I borrowed the "black book" from a friend at Broderbund and sifted through it. In those old days nothing was done for you. As a matter of fact, I had to program my own screen refresh routines, something that even your most basic console has built-in.

While I applaud the great ease that we can now develop iPhone games, lets not be afraid to dive in deeper and write our own stuff.

Your thoughts?



Triplefox said...

I think that the entire game medium shifts with constraints, it's not so much a matter of "lost knowledge" or "tools are bad." It's more like, the technical accomplishments done within a platform are far overshadowed by the platform itself.

At my studio, we are making licensed TV plug-and-play games for cheap embedded hardware, 16-bit boards that can be purchased for single-digit quantities of dollars. By applying 3d technology and other process changes, we're able to make the games on a lower budget than was possible in the original 16-bit era, but the potential quality remains on roughly the same level - similar graphics and gameplay, but the mechanics and balance show more polish than average because we can draw both from history and from contemporary ideas.

Convenient surface features like the ones provided by the iPhone API are, in this light, hard to fault. When you use them, it's often really obvious - Flash games continue to proudly wear their origins - but deeper levels of customization almost always remain. I think this is better than forcing wheel reinvention, as while these features may lend a generic feel to a game, it lets the developer hone in what they want to do well and play to specific strengths.