Constrained Game Development


I’ve always been a big proponent of Unity’s game engine as an excellent tool for making some fantastic games. Still, in the last year, I’ve learned how constraints can force you to think a little differently and help foster creativity. I’ve touched on the topic in a post in March on tips to my younger where I mentioned using some smaller and more focused game development tools.

Exploring some tools

I’m hoping to explore more of these options in the future, and this posts will hopefully serve as both a “roadmap” of tools I’d like to look at as well as show off one of the tools I’ve already tried out. So before I jump right in here is the quick list of tools I’ll be touching on:

PICO-8

Since trying out the PICO-8 for the last two Ludum Dare game jams, I’ve fallen in love with the little tool. Its creator classifies it as a fantasy console. It boasts a 16 colour palette, four sound channels, 8x8 sprites and a tilemap it is a handy little tool to create simple experiences that harken back to a simpler time. As a programmer with limited art and sound skills, this can be quite the prototyping tool while still offering a set of tools that feel like a skilled artist can use to make some amazing things. If you’re at all interested you can find our two entries here:

My cousin did the majority of the programming for both games as it allowed him to dig deep and quickly push out gameplay features while I would tinker around with sound effects and music. My contributions aren’t always that deep in these games, but I’ve found to enjoy writing music in the little sequencer included with the PICO-8. Working within these constraints have proved to be very useful within the tight time constraints of a game jam, and I’ve been amazed at how much fun it can be to optimize token counts when you’re starting to run out of tokens.

I would highly recommend the PICO-8 to people interested in making games, especially if you are a programmer. It provides you with just enough to start drawing sprites to the screen and leaves the rest to you. While this might not be a good thing for everybody, the flip side is that once you own the PICO-8 you’re free to play the many, and there are many, games people have made for the PICO-8. In my view, it’s just as good a source of entertainment as it is a tool to create games.

Voxatron

The Voxatron is the “less popular big sister” of the PICO-8, and it’s something that I just haven’t played around with just yet. My understanding is that it follows many of the same principles of the PICO-8, but it is a voxel engine that allows for a level of 3D development that isn’t present with the PICO-8. I’m also not entirely sure what exactly Voxatron provides because my knowledge of voxel engines are minimal. I do think some experimentation might yield a better understanding of voxel engines, but I’ll have to see if I can come up with something worth pursuing.

Cube 2: Sauberbraten & Tesseract

These two tools seem to provide very similar functionality: FPS-style gameplay with intuitive editors for level-building. Unity’s 3D engine can be an absolute beast, but a lot of the times you have to go on the hunt to find packages that speed up the development of an FPS game. I’ll admit I’m a little concerned about the level of flexibility provided with these. In all honesty, I most likely don’t need a fancy graphics engine or have to remember which of the many tools in Unity will help solve a problem.

The little bit of documentation I’ve read has shown that some level of scripting might be possible, but the big draw is in these tools having multiplayer support from the word go. There have been many times where I would’ve liked to create a Quake-style shooter, but I wouldn’t even know where to even start in Unity. I’d try these tools out to see what they have to offer.

Conclusion

While I feel this post doesn’t have a lot of substance, it has forced me to at least consider finding tools more fit for purpose in my game dev endeavours. When I do play with these tools, I’ll include a Project page for my attempts. Who knows, maybe I at least shared something useful to someone else and they can use one of these tools to further their game development skills. These are tools I’m adding to my collection, and I’m accumulating them more quickly than I’m finding a use for them, but one day I know it will pay off.