TL;DR: Stencyl is super awesome. It is not Stencyl that creates the games, but rather the people who use it. Stencyl is a tool. And a great tool at that. I invite you to learn it, or at least understand it, so that you too can have a successful career in making video games as I have had so far.
We’ve all seen the Stencyl is a failure thread. It is the most heated topic of discussion on this forum, and along with it, there are several other threads that pop up over time claiming that Stencyl cannot possibly be a good thing, because it takes away the true skill necessary required to build a game, writing code.
This is a really, really bad misconception.
Games are mostly made out of four things: Code, Art, Sound, and Design. In this thread, I will discuss why something like Stencyl is ultimately very useful for those of us who fall into that 4th category — Game Designers.
Now, no human being has to be one thing. You can be a coder/artist, a designer/artist, a coder/designer, a musician/artist, or any combination of those skills. In fact, in the world of indie games — you almost HAVE to be more than one thing to get anything done — but most of us have one discipline that we would use to define ourselves on a business card. I think Stencyl is for those of us who would put the title of “Designer”.
First, let’s talk a bit about code:
ActionScript is a high level scripting language which has very limited power and scope when compared to lower level programming languages like Java , Objective C , C# , and the other 20,000 variants of C . And with all that said, it’s nowhere even NEAR something as powerful (and unwieldy) as low level assembly languages and machine languages that were used to build things like the original Donkey Kong and Super Mario Brothers.
And that conveniently brings me to my first point:
This guy didn’t write the code for either of those games.
Shigeru Miyamoto was one of the first game DESIGNERS to exist. He did not write code, he drew pictures of ideas and communicated with a programmer to help turn code into something FUN.
Those of you studying programming might ask: Why didn’t the programmer just come up with what was fun without this idea-jockey stealing all the credit?
The answer is that most programmers do not make great designers. This is not a rule, but it becomes more and more true as time goes on and games reach broader audiences. To become an excellent programmer you have to think extremely logically. You develop a mastery of an arcane skill set, and you are able to turn long text files of complex commands into software that follows the whims of it’s user. To most folks, this is nothing short of magic.
Most humans can’t relate to the magic of code. In fact, most people are idiots like me — or at least, not super logical thinkers. The things that appeal to a programmer will not always appeal to others. A game designer is really a middle-man between the magic of code and the reality of 40 year old mothers who play Farmville.
Now, if you happen to be an excellent programmer who ALSO is able to turn their idea into money, then you don’t need us.
If you aren’t, then you may at some point in your future find yourself working at a company where you are a part of a team. That team will be made up of other programmers, artists, and designers.
Designers will spend a great deal of their time explaining to artists how to effectively create great art that the programmers can easily implement. At the same time, they will try to explain to programmers why they should go the extra mile to write a bit of extra code to make sure the art REALLY looks spectacular in the final presentation. We are in-between people.
The brilliant part about Stencyl is that it allows us to practice all of those skills without being absolutely dedicated to just one of them. I get to practice logic by using scripting blocks, and I get to make my own art and import it right into the game. I can test ideas without asking the coder to change variables, and I can experiment with things that I otherwise would not have thought about.
Ultimately, I think this is the best tool in my design toolbox. In fact, I love it so much that I quit my job at Gameloft to go back to making games with Stencyl, because I think Balls in Space was really just the tip of the iceberg for me. Whether Stencyl is right for you will depend on a few things, but here is what you can ask yourself going forward:
What are my goals with regard to video games?
My personal goal is to tinker with new ideas quickly and cheaply so I can see what works. I want to release a lot of games with different ideas to see which ones stick and which ones don’t. Once I have an idea that I feel is REALLY strong, I’ll be moving past Stencyl and partnering with a small team to bring it to more platforms and run it in a more native environment on each. Stencyl is great for that prototyping phase and getting something out fast. That doesn’t make it better or worse than writing ActionScript natively, it just satisfies different goals. Figure out your goals, and you will know if it is right for you!