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WWDC 2010: GameSalad brings game creation to everyone

Mike Schramm
Mike Schramm|June 15, 2010 1:00 PM
I've seen GameSalad around before (they had a big booth at this year's MacWorld, and we've mentioned them here on TUAW a few times), but I've never actually spoken to anyone who works for the Austin, TX based company. Fortunately, senior platform director Michael Herring found some time to come say hi at WWDC this week, and he spoke with me about the development system that hopes to bring iPhone and iPad app creation to everyone.

He did walk me through the app quickly, but since it's a free download over on their website, you can go see it for yourself if you want. The idea is that you set up a series of "actors," and then you add a set of rules for those actors (what happens when they touch or get directions from the keyboard, etc.) that will eventually make up a full game. GameSalad doesn't actually require any coding knowledge, but Herring told me that it did require a little bit of know-how in terms of how games work. You can easily make a game system with the app (and even veteran developers often use it for quick prototyping), but to actually make a working game that people will want to play, you'll have to bring your own trial-and-error patience and balancing effort.
Apparently, lots of people have that know-how, because there are already over 700 games that have used GameSalad's development kit to bring their titles to the App Store. Herring showed me a few of them, and while they were playable, none of them really intrigued me. It's tough to blame GameSalad for that, though; most of the fault on the games that I played came from the creators, not the tools.

One recent concern about said tools has been "Section 3.3.1" in the developers' agreement for iOS 4.0; the rule supposedly disallows third-party dev kits, like GameSalad, from using their software to create games that will then show up on the App Store. Herring confirmed with me that GameSalad is on good ground; they haven't had a game of theirs refused yet, and they don't expect to in the future. Flash is another story, but Herring says that, since GameSalad is a Mac-based platform already, and since the company uses Apple's own Xcode to build and check the apps that their software creates, they don't foresee an issue. If they're doing their job, an iPhone app that GameSalad creates would be indistinguishable from an Xcode-created iPhone app anyway.

Another concern you have with an app like GameSalad is performance; because you're basically creating an app through a filter, it's often hard to optimize a third-party dev kit's app in the way that a developer working directly in Xcode can. Herring said that the latest version of GameSalad is the fastest it's ever been, and that they're continually trying to figure out ways to optimize the apps that their users create. Additionally, they've added more support for more of the iPhone and iPad's functions, including full multitouch support. They're also looking closely at iOS 4 in order to try and support things like multitasking and the gyroscope as soon as they can. iAds and Game Center are also both being looked at; Herring says that since Apple wants to make iAds as easy as dropping some code in your app, they're hoping to make it just as easy to add iAds to a GameSalad project.

As popular as GameSalad is, it's still pre-1.0. However, with a full pro account, it can be a very powerful tool for creating games quickly.