GameMaker Studio 2 Review | PCMag

graceacupuncture - 22/01/2023 - STRATEGY - 339 Views

Consumer video game development software faces a dilemma. If the tools are too simple, they don’t teach you the advanced skills necessary to further your potential career. But if the tools are overly complex, you'll be too frustrated to keep going. GameMaker Studio 2 strikes the perfect balance by accommodating newcomers, but not holding anything back for people with the time (and money) to fully invest in their indie game dreams. GameMaker’s excellent results speak for themselves, and it’s our Editors’ Choice pick for consumer video game development software.

What Kinds of Games Can You Make?

Instead of talking about the games you can hypothetically make with GameMaker, let’s just list some of the actual, famous, acclaimed indie video games built with this engine. GameMaker games includes Blazing Chrome, Downwell, Gunpoint, Heat Signature, Hotline Miami, Hyper Light Drifter, Katana Zero, Nidhogg, Nuclear Throne, Rivals of Aether, Spelunky, Undertale, Wandersong, VA-11 Hall-A, and Barkley Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden.

That list includes some of the most beloved indie console, mobile, and PC games of the past few years. It includes genres as varied as platforming roguelikes, drug-fueled, top-down shooters, cyberpunk visual novels, and comedy-basketball RPGs. If you can imagine it, GameMaker lets you make it.

Well, that’s mostly true. If you look closely, you’ll see that all those games are 2D. GameMaker lets you add limited 3D graphics to your games, but it mainly focuses on 2D games. 3D functionality is rare for consumer-level game development tools. Fuze4 offers it, but you can’t export its games off the Nintendo Switch. AppGameKit Studio and Godot also let you implement 3D graphics into your game, but they require a higher level of technical knowledge. For 3D development, you need a truly professional program like Unity or Unreal Engine.

Price and Platforms

GameMaker simultaneously has some of the most affordable and most expensive pricing options of all the services I’ve tested. After the 30-day free trial, there’s no way to use GameMaker for free; Construct and Stencyl, on the other hand, let you use their tools for free as long as you want, if you can accept some limitations. Meanwhile, Godot is completely free. However, GameMaker's entry-level Creator tier ($39 per year) lets you export to Windows and Mac. That's less than half the price of rivals' similar plans.

Potentially more affordable in the long run are plans in the Developer tier. These aren’t year-long subscriptions, but permanent licenses. Only Fuze4 offers a similar, one-time purchase. For $99, you can export to Windows, Mac, and Ubuntu through PC gaming marketplaces. You pay $149 to add HTML5 web support to the package. And for $199, you can publish to Android and iOS stores, or join the Xbox One Creators Program.

If you’re serious about game development, though, you need to get your game in front of as many players as possible. You need to get your game on consoles. Among the services I’ve tested, only GameMaker offers licenses for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, as well as PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X, no extra license required. Unfortunately, because the platform holders want their cut, those licenses don’t come cheap. An individual console license costs $799 per year. Or you can opt for an Ultimate subscription, buying all three licenses at once for $1,500. That price tag, while hefty, saves you nearly $1,000. For comparison, a pro Unity subscription costs $1,800 per year, while Epic currently gives away the Unreal Engine for free as it pushes developers toward the Epic Games Store

Developing With GameMaker

When you first create a project, GameMaker asks if you want to use GameMaker Language (GML) or Drag and Drop (DnD). GameMaker offers two informative, step-by-step, video tutorials for building the same Asteroids clone game in either language, so feel free to try both and see what works best for you.

GameMaker Studio 2 Review | PCMag

GML should feel familiar to anyone used to making games the traditional way: coding. Users compare it with JavaScript or C, and you can even convert it into those languages. While the tutorial is helpful, having some prior coding knowledge helps before jumping cold into GML.

True beginners should go with DnD. This is GameMaker’s visual programming language, one that turns if/then statements from finicky syntax into digestible blocks. Previously, DnD offered much less power over your game than GML. But now, thanks to a bevy of premade behaviors, you can create a complex game without writing code.

Granted, that’s because even this “simple” language can get complicated quickly. You still do a lot of math and generate a lot of assets. For the Asteroids game, you set the frame rate, mold the physics for spaceship movement, set variables for randomly spawning rocks, and trigger explosion animations when bullets collide with their targets. I enjoyed the challenge.

DnD is easier than coding, but it comes close enough conceptually that I feel my skills can transfer over. You can even convert DnD scripts into GML or write bits of GML and stick them in your DnD projects as discrete functions. As a result, GameMaker’s programming experience surpasses both visual-heavy software, such as Construct or Stencyl, and code-only software, such as AppGameKit Studio or Fuze4.

GameMaker’s interface helps you keep your project under control as your game grows in scope. For example, there's a main workspace and tabs for editing specific game elements, such as level rooms or sprite images. I appreciate how the workspace organizes visual and coding elements together. Seeing sprite animations, objects those sprites are linked to, and code for that object all grouped together makes it easy to track distinct game elements and see where problems might occur. GameMaker's workflow is better than Construct's workflow, which separates visual elements and programmed events into separate Layout and Event sheet tabs. GameMaker’s layout reminds me of how Twine intuitively lays out the chunks of its interactive text stories, except with more elements.

Considering GameMaker's parent company was just purchased by Opera, I also wouldn't be surprised to eventually see a version of GameMaker that runs in the Opera GX gamer browser, similar to how Construct and Twine run in web browsers.

As more big-name GameMaker games release, the more the software’s popularity and user base grows. You should leverage GameMaker’s excellent, free tutorials and example games, as well as its robust, community marketplace. You can browse for top-rated demos, animations, sound effects, scripts, backgrounds, and other useful assets to speed up your process or learn cool, new tricks. Most items I saw in the marketplace cost either a few bucks or nothing at all.

Make Games

GameMaker first launched in 1999, and many years ago I dabbled with an early version of the program. I was a dumb kid who wanted to rip off Nintendo games, but I remember being frustrated that the process wasn’t as straightforward as the name suggested.

Today, GameMaker Studio 2 absolutely lives up its promise of letting you make real video games whether you’re a coding prodigy or have never thought about sprites in your life. Investing in its power and publishing possibilities, no matter how high the price, never feels like a waste. It’s our Editors’ Choice pick for consumer game development software, and gets within striking distance of robust options that let you build AAA games.

Looking to expand your horizons? Supplement your game development education with the best online learning services.


2D and 3D game development

Visual and text-based programming languages

Lets you export to the web, mobile, PC, and consoles, including PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X

Permanent license options

Robust marketplace

View MoreThe Bottom Line

Although it can be pricey, no game-development program helps you transition from an amateur to a professional better than GameMaker Studio 2.

Lab Report to get the latest reviews and top product advice delivered right to your inbox.","first_published_at":null,"published_at":null,"last_published_at":null,"created_at":null,"updated_at":null})" x-show="showEmailSignUp()" class="rounded bg-gray-lightest text-center md:px-32 md:py-8 p-4 font-brand mt-8 container-xs">Like What You're Reading?

Sign up for Lab Report to get the latest reviews and top product advice delivered right to your inbox.

This newsletter may contain advertising, deals, or affiliate links. Subscribing to a newsletter indicates your consent to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. You may unsubscribe from the newsletters at any time.