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  • Look, Ma, No Code

    [08.19.14]
    - Nate Ralph

  • Getting Around: GameSalad

     While Construct 2 brings Photoshop to mind, GameSalad is vaguely reminiscent of iMovie or Final Cut Pro, and behaves like nothing I've ever used before. Which isn't to say it's unintuitiveCoonce I'd puzzled out the app's byzantine collection of tabs, scrolling windows, and nested dialog boxes I found it to be a decidedly fluid experience.

    GameSalad shares much of the same general ideas as Construct 2. The app's objects are called actors, and are imported in the same drag-and-drop fashion. In the default layout, the inspector window on the left side of the screen hosts all of the information you'll need: You can modify an actor's behaviors, adjust your scene's size, or tweak layers as you see fit. When you start a new project in GameSalad, you have the option of choosing what device you're developing for. This is solely used for determining your layout's initial dimensions and can be changed at any time, but I loved having a solid idea of my workspace.

    The bulk of the interface is taken up by the Scene, which is where all of the action takes place. Drop objects onto it and drag them into place, and it's a facsimile of the device you chose. GameSalad adds the concept of the camera, or window in which all of the game's action takes place. Construct 2 handles this by letting you define the size of a scene's layout, but I found controlling the camera and its behavior to be quite a bit more intuitive.

    GameSalad's take on behavior-planning for actors was decidedly less appealing than Construct 2's solution. It's all in the presentation: While revolving around the same logic table concept (if X, then Y), GameSalad's rules system relies on a series of collapsible dialog boxes. It's ostensibly cleaner and more informative, with drop-down menus driving most of the actionCothough there are expression editors if you'd like to get technical. It's simply less elegant than Construct 2's event sheets. Instead of seeing a list of icons and actions and piecing the events together at a glance, I've got to rely on parsing through text and doing a whole lot of scrolling.

    The lack of preset behaviors also proved a bit frustrating. Getting my rocket ship moving about in Construct 2 was as simple as selecting a behavior that fits my needs. In GameSalad, every action needs to be configured manually: Making my rocket move meant creating a rule that caused it to accelerate in every direction. I also needed to have an image to represent every change in direction. I'd fortunately already created all of those assets while experimenting with control schemes earlier, but Construct 2's behaviors will elegantly change an object's orientation for you, eliminating much of the extra work.

    Previewing your work in process is at once simple and far more complex with GameSalad. You can hit the preview button on the main interface window and play your game right on your PC or Mac. If you'd like to test it on an iOS device, you'll need to have a paid membership to the Apple Developer's program and install the GameSalad viewer tool. To preview on an Android device, you'll need to install and configure the Android SDK on your PC. That's quite a few hoops to jump through if you'd just like to take a peek at how your game will handle in the real world, but probably worth the effort once you're serious about getting a pet project off the ground.

    Of note: Before you can even download GameSalad, you'll need to register for a free account. When you run the application, you're encouraged to sign in to ease the process of publishing your work to the GameSalad arcade, or take advantage of your Pro subscription (if you pony up the $299 a year). When working with GameSalad I bounced between my Mac and my PC (the beauty of cross-platform compatibility) and rarely remembered to sign in, but as I wasn't publishing anything or using a Professional license, I never felt the need to.

    Would You Like to Know More?

    Tutorials are the lifeblood of many amateur endeavors, and both Construct 2 and GameSalad go to great lengths to help fledgling game developers get their feet wet.

    Both apps offer web sites and tutorials to get you started, but Construct 2's disjointed presentation leaves much to be desired. The "manual" is more like a dictionary than a proper guide, with entries on most of the app's tools laid out in reverse chronological order from the date they were created. You'll essentially need to know what specific function you're looking for (or having trouble with) before you get there. The tutorials suffer from the same lack of disorganization, but are decidedly more useful: The app's developers and users have provided detailed guides explaining how core functions work, and offer step-by-step instructions on developing complete games, often including assets.

    I've always appreciated the learn-by-doing approach, and step-by-step guides to creating a basic platformer or 'shoot-em-up go a long way toward helping neophytes really learn the tools they're working with. The app also includes a lot of example projects, so you can inspect the layouts and codes of games similar to whatever designs you had in mind.

    The Construct 2 forum community is at once a blessing and a curseCoand I mean that in the best possible way. When experimenting with control schemes for my prototype, I followed some suggestions from one post and developed a rather convoluted control method (from a development perspective) to implement basic mouse-driven navigation, only to peek into Scirra's official examplesCoprovided with the appCoto find a much more elegant solution staring me in the face. It's clear we're all learning together in the forums, but it's immensely helpful to have both the Construct 2 developers and power users jump in to explain core features or craft examples out of whole cloth that the rest of us can download and tinker with.

    GameSalad's manual offers far more structureCoit's a PDF manual in the most traditional sense, offering a table of contents, lots of annotated pictures, and a guide that walks you through creating a simple shooter. It's a bit long (what good manuals aren't?), but well worth perusing. The same goes for GameSalad's Cookbook, a web resource that lays out all of the app's functions and major concepts as a series of tutorials. Every tutorial you complete will earn you a few points, which can unlock titles for your profile.

    Like Construct 2, GameSalad's forums are a great resource to get questions answered, or simply peruse what's already been posted (Google is your friend here, though). It's a bit better organized than Construct's implementation, divided into far more categories than your typical web forum, which makes casual browsing a bit easier.

    Keep in mind that the official user communities and tutorials aren't the only resources available. Many of the users of both apps have comprehensive YouTube channels, where they delve into most every topic you can imagine.

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