Due to the massive complexity of the majority of major programming languages, and the difficulty of actually learning them in the first place, a small-but-dedicated subgenre of software has arisen: the "game maker."
Simply put, a "game maker" is a software "toolkit" that usually contains a pre-designed framework for a particular type of game. Often, these toolkits will include art assets, a fairly simple (though robust and versatile) scripting system, and a pre-built "library" of sound effects, visual effects, sprites, and other game-design material.
The intent of the "game-builder's toolkit" concept is to permit even the most inexperienced and computer-unfamiliar person to design, test, and publish a basic game in a matter of minutes (as opposed to days, months, or years).
Such programming toolboxes usually come with some form of tutorial or instruction file, containing a general overview of the toolkit itself, along with some more in-depth (but very casual and easily-followed) instructions that are intended to walk a beginner through creating a very simple "starter" game. A complete, playable version of the tutorial/starter game is most often included with the toolkit, so that the truly-confused first-time user can examine the "finished version" to see how it was put together, and what it's supposed to look like when it's finished.
While it is possible to construct a commercial-quality game using these toolkits, it's often extremely difficult to do so — to save space and time, the art and sounds provided are usually a very small, basic collection, aimed at speeding development rather than enhancing the program.
Contrast with Game Engine. The main distinction between a Game Engine and a Game Maker is that Game Makers are very focused on a specific genre or style of game. RPG Maker will rarely make anything other than Role Playing Games, whereas a real Game Engine can make a wide variety of styles of game. Game Makers are a step up from level editing, but not enough to be full-fledged game engines.
When looking at the games made with these, be warned: Sturgeon's Law is in full force.
The Stock Sound Effects used in the RPG Maker programs are commonly heard in fangames, and other videos, because they're easy to get.
Not to be confused with GameMaker Studio, formerly known as GameMaker, which is sufficiently complex to be considered a full-fledged 2D Game Engine, or for that matter Garry Kitchen's GameMaker, a Commodore 64 application released in 1985.
- The Ur-Example and Trope Maker is Bill Budge's Pinball Construction Set, which came out for the Apple II in 1982. It used a drag-and-drop interface to allow users to make their own Digital Pinball Tables, controlling everything from the layout and colors, to the game logic and physics. It soon became one of Electronic Arts' launch titles, and its success led to several other titles in EA's Construction Set series.
- Another of the earliest was Adventure Construction Set, released by Electronic Arts for Commodore 64 and Apple ][ in 1985.
- Atmosphir is a game maker that as of this writing includes platforming, multiplayer coop, multiplayer battle, and racing. Despite all these genres, it is not yet a full-fledged Game Engine.
- BYOND is a 2-D online game engine available for free. It's a hybrid between a full-service Game Maker and a programming IDE. Gameplay customization is achieved through writing Python-like code, but you can build a graphical map and wander through it with your friends before you write a single line of code.
- Captain Gamemaker was an early example, which made a list of 30 bad titles in PC Gamer UK circa 1997. A quick glance at Google turns up no results for it, but it was definitely there.
- Construct Classic (formerly known as simply Construct) is a point-and-click system with some very deep systems for performing events and actions. Can get simple games up in as little as five minutes. Somewhat buggy due to its continual development state. Though the official developers are no longer working on it, members of the community are making new updates for it, probably until its successor catches up in terms of functionality. Speaking of which...
- Construct 2, while effectively in primitive, bare-bones state, is basically a complete re-do of the original, but with a much better codebase thanks to the developers learning tons from their experiences with developing the original Construct. A licencing system is planned, though the fact that it won't be free is offset by the fact that its developers will be able to work on it full-time, resulting in faster and better updates. Designed with a modular exporting system which has the potential to allow exporting games to every platform under the sun, the first and current exporter is HTML5, as it is a reasonable multi-platform starting point, effectively making Construct 2 the first native HTML5 game maker. Despite its current development state, the Construct community has demonstrated its usual habit of defying limitations and made some neat stuff anyway.
- Clickteam has made a number of Windows-based game maker programs since the mid-90's. The first version of this program was Klik and Play, which allowed game makers to make simple one-panel stages. It was obviously meant for younger players, but much more advanced versions were released over the years - The Games Factory, Click and Create/Multimedia Fusion Express, Multimedia Fusion and its current incarnation Clickteam Fusion 2.5. A number of very popular indie games have been made via Clickteam Fusion 2.5, including Freedom Planet, The Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures and the Five Nights at Freddy's saga.
- Flowlab is a hybrid game maker/game engine that runs in your web browser and creates games that run on Flash, iPhones, and iPads.
- Game Builder Garage is a game for Nintendo Switch actually made by Nintendo that teaches the player how to develop games of their own and also includes the ability to share creations.
- Game Editor is an open-source, user-friendly tool for creating videogames for various Microsoft and Apple systems (Windows, Pocket PC, Windows Mobile, iPhone, iPad and Mac OS X; also compatible with Linux-based systems). It also has C-based scripting implemented for the more advanced programmers.
- OHRRPGCE (Official Hamster Republic Role-Playing Game Construction Engine) is a freeware, open-source editor that was originally a DOS application, but has now been ported to FreeBASIC for support with new Operating Systems. It boasts flexibility and a powerful scripting engine, though has strict limitations that still exist from the DOS versions. The games made use a Final Fantasy IV-style or turn-by-turn battle engine, with potential for complex attacks. Graphics must be drawn by the user, but this has encouraged creativity. The engine is suited for any style of game, though as it's name suggests it was originally developed for creating Eastern RPGs. It has a library of both high quality titles and quick fun distractions.
- PICO-8 is a "fantasy console" that allows one to write their own small Retraux style games in Lua. It comes with several size limitations, as well as a very small fixed colour palette to work with, but despite this, several impressive games and tech demos have been made. Games can be exported as a .PNG "cartridge", as HTML5, or published on the official website, the latter two allowing them to be playable in a web browser.
- Project Spark is a game maker for the Xbox family of systems and PC, allowing you to create a variety of games with its resources.
- Ray Game Designer II as well as the first one can make old-gen 3D games without much coding knowledge, good for amateurs.
- Silent Works has easy to use, non-programming fps game creators on site, most of them were once commercial now free, FPS Creator is for Doom style fps games while Renaissance and mega kerma are for fps adventure games and puzzle games respectively.
- Stencyl is a finished after years of waiting product that is sort of a Game Engine for Game Makers. It has some of the functionality of a Game Engine, but rather than making a game, you use it to make a "Kit". Kits define the basic behavior of the style of game, like Shoot Em Ups or Platform Games. Then, it becomes a Game Maker for that particular style of game.
- There are a veritable ton of Ace Attorney case makers on various fansites around the Internet; some complex, some not-so complex.
- Any Bethesda game based on the Gamebryo Game Engine (Morrowind, Oblivion, and Fallout 3) have editing tools released by Bethesda that have full functionality with which they created the game, allowing Total Conversion Mods to be created. (In addition, Fallout: New Vegas can be edited with the Fallout 3 version of the editor.) Nehrim is one such example of a mod (in this case, using the Oblivion Engine).
- The Mission Architect in City of Heroes can be considered to be one of these. It allows a player to create a story arc with up to five missions, and for each mission chose from a list of maps, populate them with enemies and setpieces, set player objectives, write dialog for NPCs, mission briefings and debriefings, and such. The author can even use the same character creator that was used for making his own player character to create custom NPCs for use in his missions.
- DizzyAGE is an editor for the Dizzy adventure games.
- Zelda Classic started life as simply a faithful reverse-engineered version of the original Legend of Zelda, but quickly grew into an engine for creating one's own Zelda-style games based on the Zelda 1 engine. The current development versions add scripting to the mix of features.
- Open Zelda is based on the A Link To The Past engine and used scripting from the start.
- Graal Online started as an online Zelda 3 clone; now it's hosting servers for anyone who can make about $100 a year. Hypothetically free if you bring in enough subscribers — sadly, last check they frown on their developers letting people play for free...
- King's Field has Sword of Moonlight: King's Field Making Tool, a game maker program that was released in Japan in 2000 for Windows that allows users to make King's Field-styled games. Despite being released only in Japan, it has a small but dedicated community overseas and it has been translated into English.
- Mega Man Maker is a freeware game that allows players to make their own Mega Man (Classic) levels.
- Neverwinter Nights came bundled with a toolkit from which sprang a large modding community, supported by Bioware completely. Many module series were pretty clearly superior to the original game.
- Cryptic Games has a program called the Foundry that is connected to both Star Trek Online and Neverwinter which allows players to create their own missions for the game. The Foundry for STO is much more rudimentary than it is for Neverwinter, but both of them are used for the same purpose.
- There's also "Taiko-san Jiro" for creating Taiko no Tatsujin-style games, but it's only available in Japanese.
- Warcraft III has a map designer that can be considered this, why? it's a RTS map maker that was used to create things as varied as a Freak'n racing game and Defense of the Ancients. a MOBA.
- Starcraft IIs map editor is a much more flexible version. For instance, while in Warcraft III you'd always be stuck with its regular interface, Starcraft II's map editor lets you forgo even that, letting you create games that have nothing in common with said game.
- WarioWare DIY is a Game Maker that offers an easy-but-effective game making engine, though the games are limited to the four- to eight-second duration the series is known for. A hack, however, can be used to create "boss-type" games, which have no time limit.
- Adventure Game Studio is a fairly robust toolkit for making Sierra- and LucasArts-style point-and-click adventure games. The Web site features listings of games made with AGS; some good, some bad. It's actually pretty impressive how far someone can push the engine (e.g., Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw's platform action games).
- ADRIFT, TADS, and Inform 7 are currently the most popular entry points for Interactive Fiction designers. ADRIFT is perhaps slightly easier for the novice, as its environment simply slots all game elements into various nested menus without scripting, but older versions hits their limits fairly quickly when the designer tries something out of the ordinary (a problem that Adrift 5 is supposed to address). Inform 7 is really more of a language than a game maker, but it's one of the friendliest languages out there (natural language statements! Playable rooms within a minute!) and it scales very nicely with the programmer's experience. TADS is the most complex of the three, allowing for full object-oriented programming of game logic. All three handle very sophisticated levels of grammar parsing of commands.
- For those who want something even easier, there's the RAGS suite, which is basically point and click!
- This is not a new idea either. There were at least two products released for the Color Computer which allowed a user to specify vocabulary, rooms, items, and characters and then generated a BASIC program that implemented the game.
- The Quill, and its later upgrade PAWS, were Text Adventure (British for Interactive Fiction) creators of similar vintage.
- SUDS [Single User Dungeon System] is a text adventure maker for Windows.
- Twine is a program for making Interactive Fiction Gamebooks. It's probably the simplest game maker in existence; as one review puts it, "if you can type words and occasionally put brackets around some of those words, you can make a Twine game." No coding skills necessary, although HTML/CSS knowledge will help with making more complex games.
- World Builder was a popular graphic adventure game maker in the black-and-white Macintosh era, and was best known for the commercial game Enchanted Scepters (among amateur authors, Ray Dunakin and Louise Hope are probably the most noted). Its creator went on to found Cyberflix Interactive and develop an FMV Game engine called Dream Factory.
- OpenBOR is an engine for Beat 'em Up, in which you can make your own version of your favourite games as well making new ones, being known as the M.U.G.E.N of this genre. The engine is based on the Game Mod Beats of Rage, a mixture of Streets of Rage with The King of Fighters with its own story. After the success of the game, the engine was released and after that a lot of games were made under diverse franchises and with compatibility with Sega Dreamcast and PlayStation 2.
- M.U.G.E.N is the most robust engine for 2D Fighting Games out there, sporting a huge variety of features that enable makers to do damn near anything with it. There are a few full games out there, mostly fan games like Brutal Paws of Fury Remix and Mortal Kombat: Integral, but far more common are stand-alone characters that can simply be plugged into the engine and used against each other in an anything-goes slugfest.
- As far as commercial software goes, Agetec released the Fighter Maker games for the PlayStation and PS2. They didn't necessarily allow you to create a full game from scratch, the fighting engine you're given to work with is pretty basic, and creating fluid, realistic animations for moves was an extremely long and often tedious process, with the tradeoff being that if you could think it up, you could put it in the game.
- There're other fighting game engines on the net but aren't so functional or known as M.U.G.E.N. One of them is UFGEnote that works similar than M.U.G.E.N. and even has some exclusive features like Cheat Codes to unlock characters and stages, but is very slow and not much used. The only known user is G.M.Spectre, who made various fullgames using UFGE like The King of Fighters 20XX (an Affectionate Parody to KOF series) as well others based on Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Marvel and DC Comics, various of them mixed in crossover games.
- The Ur-Example of this genre is KOF '91, an engine that is known as the predecessor (and probably the inspiration) for M.U.G.E.N. Actually abandoned, there's a creator who made a Spiritual Successor: KOFFE, who takes this engine and updated to actual standards.
- Retribution Engine is an FPS Game Maker program that you could create old style FPS games like Doom and Quake without any need of coding. You can easily make interactive stages by using its trigger system in the map editor as well as making custom models for guns and characters. It's very easy to use and really unheard of.
- Like idle games like Cookie Clicker and wish you can write something like that without going from ground up? Orteil has released the game engine as Idle Game Maker, where you can now create games just like his. All you need to do is bring your own graphics and configuration script, and the engine does the rest.
- Power Game Factory is the premier game creation program for Mac OS X, best suited for platformers such as Super Mario Bros.. or Contra. Sprites, sounds, enemy behavior and more can be customized, and parallax scrolling is supported for backgrounds. The latest version, 1.1, allows two sizes for background tiles: 64×64 and 32×32 pixels. It also includes two complete games: Greenland Invasion and Zombie Holiday.
- Super Mario Maker is Nintendo's (official) response to this. The game allows anyone to create their own levels in the styles of the original Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U. Super Mario Maker 2 adds in a style for Super Mario 3D World.
- HCGE (Headcannon Game Engine) is a game engine developed by Simon "Stealth" Thomley, and while it has many other uses, it is often used to near-perfectly replicate the game play engines used in Mega Man 7, as well as the Sonic the Hedgehog series.
- Stepmania is a vanilla build of DanceDanceRevolution, allowing people to make their own rhythm games from it. Hell, it's what In the Groove and Mungyodance were built off of.
- In the same vein as Stepmania, osu! is a game engine for Elite Beat Agents tap-style games, but has since been extended to also support Taiko Drum Master and other minigame-style gameplay. Anyone can write their own tap charts to go with any song they desire, and if they're extra-creative, create custom backdrops and animations for the song. The latest build can also support story branching and can change the story outcome based on how well you're playing, just like the real games- so if you're ultra-creative, you can code up something like this.
- RPG Maker is, obviously, for Role Playing Games. The latest version is RPG Maker MZ. For the Japanese, a demo of RPG Maker VX Ace with caps on how many items of each type you can use is available, and it is assumed that they can be changed into fully-featured "registered versions" after the actual release. The English version has full functionality for 30 days before it expires and you'd have to buy it. The previous versions, RPG Maker VX and RPG Maker XP, were released similarly. Older and once widely pirated versions RPG Maker 2000 and 2003 were finally officially released in English in 2015. As for the oldest versions, RPG Maker 95 and RPG Tsukūru Dante 98 (98 being a reference to the PC-88 it ran on, the software actually dates all the way back to 1992), they were never officially translated into English.
- One important thing to note with RPG Maker, at least with earlier versions, is that level-ups and stat growth have much less effect in RPG Maker than in many real RPGs. It would be extremely difficult and require a great deal of trickery to make a game with the very dramatic power escalation of a Final Fantasy title, for instance.
- There is also a free version, known as RPGMaker VX Ace Lite, which has no time limit (previous trials locked you out 30 days after downloading them). The major changes are that it puts a cap on how many characters and items you can have, but there's still enough for a good game.
- Similar to RPG Maker is Wolf RPG Editor (website link). It's not as beginner-friendly to create with, but unlike RPG Maker, it's a completely free download. It comes with a sample game that presents the basic functionality of the program. An English-translated version can be downloaded here if you want to check it out.
- RPG Paper Maker is another RPG Maker, but designed to make 2½D games (think the visual style of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl and Pokémon Black and White) with nothing but sprite work and maybe some simple polygon objects. It aims to be friendly enough for the programmer novice to make something, but is capable of being expanded upon to those savvy in Java. It's currently in active development, and can be used to make action RPGs ala The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, with Tactical RPG capabilities in the works.
- SRPG Studio is a program for creating Strategy RPG games- primarily ones based on the Fire Emblem series. Indeed, the similarities between the mechanics of Fire Emblem and SRPG Studio are significant enough that the original creator of Fire Emblem and TearRing Saga used it to create a Spiritual Successor to both, Vestaria Saga.
- The Bard's Tale Construction Set allows you to make extremely simple 3D roleplaying games, but in practice is barely robust enough to handle its own sample adventure.
- Unlimited Adventures allows to create Gold Box-style RPGs.
- SRC ~Simulation RPG Construction~ is a C++-based program that lets the user create their own Strategy RPG games; it's clearly intended mainly for Super Robot Wars-style gamesnote , but is robust enough that one can still be used to create games more in line with Fire Emblem and other traditional fantasy fare. Its biggest flaws are the fact that it's exclusively in Japanese, creating character stats can be pretty time-consuming, and it hasn't been updated since 2011.
- There's also the Solarus Engine, originally created specifically for the remake of a fangame, The Legend of Zelda: Mystery of Solarus, by the author of the said game, but has since then evolved into a full fledged Game Maker with focus on ARPGs. And it's open source, too.
- The RPG Toolkit. You can make other types of games with it, but it's pretty hard. The learning curve for the programming language is steep, too, since (as of Version 3.0) it's now based entirely on C++.
- Shoot-Em-Up Construction Kit, or SEUCK for short, was the starting point for quite a few Amiga, Commodore 64 and Atari ST public domain games.
- Also on the Apple ][ were Arcade Machine, which used a positively Byzantine system to create shoot-em-up games.
- Touhou Danmakufu, a tool for making Touhou-like Shoot Em Ups. It scripts in a C-like language and has gone open source in 2019.
- Older Than the NES: Quicksilva released a program called Games Designer for the ZX Spectrum in 1983. It was fairly rudimentary, and rubbish, and it could only make four different types of shoot-em-ups, meaning that it may well have inspired SEUCK, but it was a designer and it did the job.
- Dezaemon, a series of Shoot 'Em Up creators by Athena for various platforms in the 1990s.
- Ren'Py is a Python-based engine designed with Visual Novels in mind. It doesn't come with many resources; you have to provide your own art and music. However, the engine is very flexible, and its functions can be expanded if one is handy with Python. There are just over 300 games already made for the engine.
- Blade is another Visual Novel engine.