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SXSW 2009: GameSalad and the promise of iPhone game development for all


If the iPhone platform, which is already lauded for making it easier for small developers to create and publish games, isn't democratic enough for you, Gendai Games is attempting to open up iPhone game development (as well as development for other platforms like Facebook, and, in the future, game consoles like the Wii and DS) to everyone, whether you can program or not, with its GameSalad software. The free program allows users to create games using a visual, drag-and-drop interface, and easily move them to the iPhone for testing.

I spoke with Gendai's Michael Agustin about the software, which just went into open beta, and how the development platform will develop in the future.

What exactly is GameSalad?

GameSalad is an open platform that allows non-programmers to create games for the web, social networks, Facebook, and also for iPhone. It's really built for the 99% of players that don't know how to program.

Right now, it's in open beta. We started alpha at Austin GDC. Since then we had 200 people sign up for alpha, then we opened up and had another 500 sign up and start making games. And we haven't really made a marketing push until now. We really don't know where these people come from. 22% of our traffic came from Italy. Someone translated entire tutorials into Italian. We've had people from Russia, Belgium ... there's a blogger that has a GameSalad blog and he's from the UK.

What kind of games can be produced with GameSalad?

Right now we're focused on 2D games, so people can make platformers, racers, Breakout, classic arcade games... GameSalad was used at the University of Texas for a game development class. During those four weeks, students were able to build Zelda clones, shooters. One of the first games was, ironically,Pong Basketball: you can move the paddles everywhere, and try to bounce the ball into the other player's basket. 80% of that class were non-programmers. Most of the fun games came from film majors!

What's the interface like?

It's a layered interface. Features that are easier to understand are more accessible and visible. Features for more advanced users are hidden, but not that far away.

A scripting engine mixes composition, behavior, logic, and expressions. If you're not a programmer, it's hard to tell which is which. With a layered interface, a larger range of people can use it in different ways.

When is this available?

The beta announcement was yesterday with Facebook integration. We also announced an iPhone preview app that allows you to pair your phone with the GameSalad application on your laptop or desktop, so you can click and beam your game over to your iPhone.

When will it be 'final'?

We're taking a Web 2.0 approach. We'll constantly improve it and people will always have the latest version of the tool. Things coming up in the wings are things that cater to advanced users. Being able to do sequences and intervals. Being able to do tile maps and different types of spaces. We'll look into doing 2.5D games that will allow you to import models. Encapsulating behaviors, making it so you can reuse it in other games.

A lot of people don't know how to create good artwork or don't have time to, so we'll have a marketplace with art created by vendors ... make it even more accessible so you don't have to be a programmer or a good artist to make good games.

When someone makes a game with GameSalad, does he or she own it?

They own the copyright. We'll give them the ability to generate executables. If people want an iPhone app or executable, it's similar to Photobucket or iPhoto where you have a collection of photos and you pay to print. If you want to publish it or create an executable, we'll have different services that will allow you to do that.

What's with the aprons?

We have a food theme ... what you see up front (of the Gendai Games booth) is the salad bar, and people can go there to "toss" their own game. We're the salad chefs who help people to make their own games and we've been giving t-shirts to people for trying it out.

What's your favorite game made in GameSalad?

I have two favorite games: one is a Zelda-style RPG made at the UT program called Darkwood, made by three students there in a week, and it's just a little sample of what they can do, obviously, because they just had a week.

And the other game is called D.R.F.T. it's a 2d top down Gran Turismo-like racing game. It's sort of like the original Grand Theft Auto.

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