Game Builder Garage – Don’t Skip The Tutorial
For anybody who has played video games for any length of time, there’s a point where your inner critic pipes up and says something to the effect of “Wouldn’t it be great if I could do (BLANK) in this game?”. Perhaps you’re the sort that says to themself “Hmmph. I could make a better game than this piece of trash!”. Hopefully, you aren’t the darling of developers everywhere, shouting into the void (or DMing poor devs directly) “Hey I have this great idea for a game – I can’t code, or do art or write music or market or any of that stuff, but if somebody else could do those jobs then my idea is sure to make money!”. For any of the above (especially those of you that fall into that last group, you hapless fool) Game Builder Garage is going to not only help you gain some rudimentary development skills but also provide a swift reality check in the most cheerful Nintendo way imaginable.
Utilising an extremely friendly front end that evokes Scratch with a tangible Nintendo sheen over it, Game Builder Garage is both a crash course in various elements of game design as well as a toolset, empowering those who wish to dig deep into its menus and see what they can accomplish. Players are initially locked into completing a set of interactive tutorials. These are disguised as game creation across a handful of familiar genres which includes sidescrolling shoot ‘em ups, motion-controlled puzzles and even a 3D platformer (which resembles but is legally distinct from the exploits of a famous Italian plumber to finish the series.)
The standout feature of these tutorials is the way they lay out a development path for the player, ‘chunking’ parts of the design and highlighting the process as extremely iterative and fraught with errors. Rather than rushing straight to the ‘solution’ for a design problem, Game Builder Garage takes players through problems and how to solve them whilst maintaining some rigidity of choice, as it’s impossible to move forward without selecting the ‘correct’ response. It helps that moving from the development interface into the ‘game’ is instantaneous, allowing for rapid adjustments and experimentation on the fly. However, this process can also be frustrating, as tutorials often reach a point partway through where simply ‘pushing and pulling some levers’ to see the result would be extremely beneficial, yet the UI greys out any options but those you are directed to. I would say for anyone without any development background at all, these lessons are an invaluable part of the experience, urging players to approach problems creatively and think about how they can reuse parts of a design to save time. Perhaps more ingenious is the insight it gives into the development process. In many cases, it deepens the appreciation for the sheer amount of effort and brainpower that must go into getting many titles into the hands of the consumer. To cap things off, the overall tone of GBG is one of fun and humour – there were numerous times during tutorials that I laughed out loud at the ridiculous things imperfect scripting can result in, a good reminder that games are supposed to be fun to play and by extension should ideally be fun to make, more so as a hobbyist.
So where to go once the tutorials are complete? Free Programming is the answer, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Let loose on the full suite of options, players can create and share their game designs freely, with some extremely impressive examples already making their way into the wild. What may disappoint some is the inability to import external assets into Game Builder Garage, which instead comes with a decent variety of built-in music, visuals and other elements. However, barring extensive customisation work on the creators part, anything produced will still look and sound like it was made in Game Builder Garage. I would argue that anybody frequently butting up against this restriction may be ready to take the next step in their game development journey and move to a more robust option. For those who don’t fancy themselves the developing type, the tutorials and resulting games are good for a dozen hours of play or more, but as with any self-directed title there is only so much to do before boredom sets in without a desire for experimentation or discovery – for these players, Game Builder Garage will ultimately live or die on the strength of the community and their output.
While I don’t expect that the next indie sensation will be made in Game Builder Garage, I do think it sets the stage for numerous aspiring developers and designers both young and old to get their first taste of the process or a solid refresher of the basics at least. There’s a very real chance that 10-15 years from now, interviews will feature many up and coming devs attributing their first step and successes to Game Builder Garage.
Game Builder Garage was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with code kindly supplied by the publisher