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Scottish Design Icons: GameMaker Studio

Scottish Design Icons is a series of small articles showcasing the big hitters of Scottish design. With Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt opening next month, gamer Alan McKay looks at a game making tool that’s allowed him to create experiences for other players.

I’ve spent a lot of my life playing videogames, whether it’s scaling the largest tower in Assassin’s Creed II before plunging thousands of feet into a miniature haystack that inexplicably didn’t kill me or coordinating a well-planned but hilarious team of tanks to baffle the enemy on Overwatch. I’ve made countless friends playing games online; it’s no wonder that I have such a strong connection to the medium.

Games have also been there for me in some of the most difficult times of my life, letting me escape reality and giving me a breath of fresh air away from hardship. Imagine the smile on my face when I learned I could create games myself, and maybe even provide a much-needed distraction to others going through tough times of their own.

Previously, making games was not something I had much experience with, but game development software (such as Unity and other programs) finally made it possible. GameMaker Studio is my favourite: the simple drag and drop system allows me to do more than I ever thought I’d be able to. I can choose which of my own creations to use and where I want each piece of this vast world that I have summoned up to be placed. When it all comes alive it makes me feel like an expert who’s spent years developing my craft.

Screenshot from GameMaker Studio

Originally developed as Animo by Prof. Dr. Mark Overmars in 1999 and then taken on by Dundee’s own YoYo Games in 2007, GameMaker Studio has been used to make an increasing number of breathtaking games. One of these was 2015’s BAFTA nominated Undertale by Toby Fox, a story with so much sarcasm and fourth-wall-breaking self-awareness that I was able to relate to 99% of the characters.

Another example, Spelunky, was created back in 2009 by Derek Yu. This cave-dwelling expedition made my heart almost burst when I saw how much treasure I lost on a particular level: tip-toeing around so carefully and precisely, before accidentally taking one tentative step too far and into a large pit of doom (spiders).

GameMaker Studio has played an integral role in many of the breathtaking games that have blasted out of the indie scene over the last few years. It’s been invaluable for countless new developers like me, longing to breathe life into creations that would otherwise have been left scribbled in notebooks.

This tool is important to me for how it democratises videogame making and empowers young people across the globe to have a go at bringing their vision to life using a sometimes overlooked form of design. Keep an eye out for it the next time you’re in our Scottish Design Galleries.

Alan is a Visitor Assistant at V&A Dundee.