As someone who has no experience in programming, GameMaker has always intrigued me for the simple reason that it “is the fastest and easiest-to-use cross-platform game engine” – especially for 2D games. At the same time, GML (GameMaker Language) is considered to be a good introduction to programming – mostly because it allows one to learn about programming without the difficulty that is associated with learning programming languages in general.
Due to how easy it is to pick up and learn GameMaker, the game engine has built up a large passionate fanbase over the years, and has also been responsible for a number of highly successful games – including Nuclear Throne, Spelunky, Undertale, Hotline Miami, Hyper Light Drifter, and Katana Zero. At the same time however, a much more comprehensive list of GameMaker developed games can be viewed here.
I spoke to Russell Kay (Head of GameMaker) about GameMaker, and was able to find out a little bit more about the game engine, as well as where his company intends to take the game creation tool next. Enjoy!
GameMaker is primarily an engine that’s renowned for its 2D capabilities. What scope is there for GameMaker to have its 3D capabilities enhanced in future?
We are very firmly a 2D engine, and we’re going to stay that way. We do have plans to allow users to import 3D models, but we’re not actually going to a full 3D engine. We’re looking to use the capabilities better and enhance the special effects that people can do. So whilst we are not going to be full 3D, as we’re leaving that to Unity and Unreal and the other guys, we are going to look to be the best 2D engine that brings what I think people are really wanting from 3D within the 2D space, such as better lighting and better sorting of images together. There is a huge leap in going to 3D for 3D assets, and we’re looking to keep the GameMaker ethos of having quick pipelines and a quick ability to turn things around. We’re not going to impose a giant 3D asset pipeline, and whilst this does give amazing results, it also makes games very slow to build. So we’re very firmly focused on the 2D end and the 2D pipeline and improving that throughout.
GameMaker has always prided itself on being a 2D engine that is newbie friendly, but how is GameMaker positioning itself in an environment where you’ve got all these “free” engines like Unity and Godot that are getting widespread adoption from newbie developers?
First of all, I wish them all the best. I feel that they’re in a different market from us. We’re very firmly in the education and the non-technical end of the market. So as you know, we’re marketing ourselves more towards creators and designers and artists and those who are looking to create a game, but who don’t necessarily have the technical ability and knowledge that is required to actually do it. It’s just something that’s much more complicated to achieve. So we’re very specifically looking at new non-technical users and making it easy for them to create games all the way through. So all the best to Godot and Unity, I think they’re great, but it’s a different market from where we’re looking. You know, we’re not interested in being the next AAA game engine. We’re interested in expanding the capabilities of GameMaker so that our users can actually reach a larger audience.
We’re not necessarily interested in marketing ourselves to the EAs and the Ubisofts… We find GameMaker to be used a lot in those companies, but only as a prototyping engine by the designers and the art teams, because they don’t have the programming teams around them to actually do that stuff. The programming teams are actually away making the fun stuff, the great stuff… sorting out all the problems in Unity and Godot and Unreal, whereas the art teams are then just left to work out how they’re actually going to do certain things. And we find them actually picking up GameMaker and doing it. You know, there are a lot of games out there. And sure, they might not be released as GameMaker games, but a lot of them were originally prototyped in GameMaker, where a lot of the problems were sorted out, and where the teams were able to iterate quickly. To that extent, Game Maker is a great prototyping tool. That’s kind of where we originally started. And all we’ve done is raise the bar of what you can actually do. You can take that prototype and bring it to market, without actually having to go to Unity or Unreal, and without having to have an expensive programming team.
Do you remember the BBC Micro?
Yes, of course.
The initial idea for the BBC Micro was to teach young kids, and this included programming. Raspberry Pi took the concept a stage further and also modernized it. Have you ever thought about partnering with the likes of Raspberry Pi?
Oh definitely. When they brought it out, we were talking about what we could do. And that’s one of the reasons why we’ve actually got a Linux version of GameMaker, because I and several members of the team, we’ve got Raspberry Pi’s at home, and we were wanting to get a GameMaker build on that. GameMaker now has a beta version that you can run the IDE on the Raspberry Pi. And that’s also the reason why our Linux runner has all of the ARM versions there, so you can create games for Raspberry Pi. So if there are any Raspberry Pi fans out there, then GameMaker is ready now, and you can make games on your Raspberry Pi.
So the official version of GameMaker, in terms of it allowing Raspberry Pi exports, will be coming out soon?
Well, it’s available now, and you can get it. Linux however is a difficult beast to support, so it will probably be in beta for a long time, just because officially we don’t have the manpower to support it properly. If we see an upswell in people using it, then we will be able to support it more, and it will eventually drop its beta moniker because of that. So it’s there, it’s available, and we would encourage people to use it.
I guess it’s similar to something like the Raspberry Pi 400, which is basically a Raspberry Pi with an inbuilt keyboard and which looks like an Amiga 500… So I’m looking at it from the perspective of the Amiga 500 and its AMOS game development program, and think that it would be great if Raspberry Pi came out with GameMaker as a future pack-in… Especially when the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s mission is to teach kids programming, and also wanting to nurture the game developers of tomorrow. You could possibly speak to Raspberry Pi Foundation about having GameMaker as an official pack-in. It might make the final product slightly more expensive, and there will obviously be licencing issues to work out, but I do think that there’s scope for GameMaker to become an official partner of sorts…
Yes, you’re quite right…
What’s your background in game development?
I’ve been in games for close to 40 years now. A long time ago, I was a part of the original team at DMA Design. We did Lemmings and Lemmings 2 and the original Grand Theft Auto. I then left and started my own company and went on to do Formula 1 with Psygnosis, and then I did the Medal of Honor: Frontline and Rising Sun games, and started working on their sequels. And the Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup game… So yeah, I’ve got quite a strong pedigree when it comes to the AAA side of things. And I brought that to GameMaker, and that’s why GameMaker now runs on all these different platforms. That’s basically what I brought to the equation.
Is there anything else that you’d like to mention? Maybe something about GameMaker’s future direction, or anything like that?
We have so much coming soon… We’re revisiting all areas of our IDE, and are improving all areas. We have a new compiler toolchain coming, which is based on LLVM, which will speed GameMaker games up a lot. And we are adopting WebGPU as our graphic standard. There are exciting times ahead and I encourage everybody to come and take a look.
Thank you so much.