Create The Next Angry Birds With Scirra’s Construct 2
In my early teenage years, nursing a debilitating Quake 3 addiction, I made a career choice: I would make games for a living. I announced so to my family at the dinner table, and as expected, pandemonium ensued. This was much, much before the era of Nintendo Wii and the iPhone, when John Carmack wasn’t blowing rockets into space, the original Half-Life was changing the first person shooter landscape, and gaming was still a hobby of the nerds.
Then I learned that you need to know programming to make games. Not just that, you need to be really good to even stand in the shadows of Cliff Bleszinski. Around this time, I was also introduced to Salman Rushdie and Garcia Marquez, and thus began a love affair with literature. I tried to pick up programming – C and Java – but found myself distracted by Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway instead. My game-developer career was killed off before it could even hit the runway.
Gaming has come a long way then. It is no longer the refuge of the nerd or the social reject. It is as mainstream as a Ben Stiller comedy. I recently introduced my father to the joys of ramming into cars and escaping from cops in Need for Speed. It’s only a matter of time before he’s on XBox Live, (hopefully not) cussing like a teenager as he scores a headshot in Halo.
Making games, however, is still the domain of the geeks – technically demanding, no matter whether you’re trying to make a simple 2D platformer or the next installment in the Modern Warfare series.
Ten years ago, designing websites was reserved solely for the technically inclined. Today, any idiot with an internet connection can install a WordPress theme and build a stunning website in hours (I’m one of those idiots, by the way). Or get a WSYIWYG editor. Same with photo retouching or music production. Simple, easy to use tools have made them surprisingly accessible over the past decade.
Scirra is trying to do the same for games: an easy to use game editor that’ll help you create dynamic, engaging, beautiful games on the fly without any programming knowledge. It’s the kind of promise that, if available a decade ago, would’ve dissuaded me from straying from my game developer dreams.
Game Development for the Masses
Scirra’s primary offering is ‘Construct 2’, a game editor that helps you create HTML5 games which can be played on virtually any platform: smartphones, tablets, or even offline on a PC. It includes a powerful Physics engine, drag and drop capabilities, a dynamic event editor, sound effects and background music (traditionally, a chink in HTML5’s armor). It’s surprisingly effective, even though the learning curve can be slightly steep for the technically disinclined. The physics engine is especially impressive, capable of rivaling the effects in Angry Birds or Meat Boy.
Construct 2 was born out of ‘Construct Classic’, an open-source game editor that was a massive hit underground. Scirra estimates that the original had been downloaded over 500,000 times (you can download it here). Construct 2, on the other hand, is closed source and operates on a freemium model: you can use it for free, but get access to more features in the standard ($65) and business ($255) versions.
(Scirra is running an ‘Early Adopter’ scheme under which standard version is for $32, business for $169).
Scirra is run by two brothers – Ashley and Thomas Gullen. Ashley was the creator of the original Construct Classic and is the technical lead on Construct 2, while Thomas looks after the rest of the business. And judging by how fast the business is growing, Thomas should have his hands full. In an email, he revealed that Construct 2 is being downloaded upwards of 3-400 times a day. More importantly, the company is bringing in money: it surpassed its yearly financial goals by a factor of 10 within four months.
Selling Pick-Axes in a Gold Rush
Scirra is, perhaps, in just the right place at just the right time. The interest in creating games has never been greater due to the runaway success and millions of dollars raked in by Angry Birds and the bevy of casual games it inspired. There is a hungry market of hundreds of millions of smartphone owners – a number bound to increase exponentially in the next two years – willing to spend with an easy hand on casual games. For game developers, these are the early beginnings of a massive gold rush. And Scirra is ready with its pick-axes and shovels for the boundless hopefuls that’ll eventually throng to dip into this gold mine.
To be sure, Scirra’s audience isn’t looking to create the next Skyrim. It’ll be satiated with a Space Invaders-esque romp that brings in a few thousand dollars from the iTunes Store or earns bragging rights with friends. Construct 2 is perfectly positioned for this audience: it’s easy to use, doesn’t require more than half an afternoon to pick up, and runs games in platform neutral HTML5.
Scirra recognizes that HTML5 is the future of casual gaming and thus, eschewed all support for Flash. Consequently, every game you create with Construct 2 will run on virtually any platform, provided the browser supports HTML5. Co-founder Tom Gullen says, “We think HTML5 will start taking a more leading role on the web and it’s our hope that it will eventually overtake Flash as being the tool of choice for online dynamic content”.
To be sure, Scirra isn’t the only competitor in this field. There’s the already established GameSalad, but Tom hopes co-founder Ashley’s experience with Construct Classic will come in handy. “This is Ashley’s second game creation software so all the big mistakes and lessons have already been learnt”, he says. Given Construct 2’s polish and burgeoning popularity, GameSalad should indeed start looking over its shoulder.
Here’s something to do over the weekend: download a copy of Construct 2 (link), learn the ropes (manual), then try making your own game. Or spend the weekend sampling your fellow Construct 2 users’ creations at the Arcade.
In the meantime, I’ll be working on Psychedelic Angry Pac-Mario Man as I nibble away at Rovio’s glorious empire.
P.S.: Scirra has raised a round of angel funding. I wrote about the company’s gamification features earlier here.