What fun: Popfly gets a game builder

The mash up maker from Microsoft gets a new module: A development environment for building casual games.

Microsoft's Popfly team is rushing to finish a major addition to its mash up maker so it can do demonstrations at the Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif., tomorrow. I got a quick demo earlier this week and I hope the product is ready in time, because it's a great new service, and just perfect for the audience the Maker Faire draws.

The new feature: an environment for building casual games (think Solitaire, not Half-Life), called Game Creator There are several templates with generic titles to start from (personal favorite: "Badly built wall") or users can create their own games from scratch using a scripting system and a built-in, and entertaining, library of graphics and sounds.

Indeed, that is a badly-built wall. Microsoft
Popfly Game Creator lets you assign behaviors to your game's "actors." (Click image to enlarge.) Microsoft

In the demo I saw, a Space Invaders-like game was built in just a few minutes. I'm always skeptical when people with intimate knowledge of a development environment show how easy it is to build an application with it; I've always found that really learning a development system, even one geared for programmer newbies such as this, takes a bit of dedication. In other words, it's never as easy as it looks. However, even though I was not able to try the product before writing this, Popfly Game Creator does indeed appear to be an easy and fun environment to build games in.

The system has a physics engine of some sophistication. It can tell when items collide (a key behavior in games), and it models gravity, but I was told that a Pong-type game required hand-coded extensions to calculate bounce angles.


The runtime debugger shows your actors, behaviors, and actions. (Click image to enlarge.) Microsoft

Popfly games can be run on the Popfly site, or embedded on any Web page or Facebook profile. The games use the Silverlight runtime, which is a straightforward install if it's not already on your system (Yes, there is a Mac version).

While Popfly Game Creator is part of the Popfly product, integration into the mash up maker environment is not complete, so you can't build today, say, a shoot-em-up that lets you blast incoming Twitter messages out of the sky. Too bad.

Popfly's Principal Group Program Manager, John Montgomery (disclosure: we used to work together) says that, "Games is what sucks people into coding." I can relate to that. When I was a child, I taught myself BASIC so I could write games. Popfly Game Creator is the kind of system I'd love to put my own son in front of, when he's old enough, to show him how much fun it is to program.

 

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