Advent Showdown Part 1: Game Development Kits

In the first Advent Showdown, I’m going to look at two different paid game creation tools : App Game Kit 2, and Axis Game Factory Pro v2. Both of these tools are available on Steam, and can be used by those with little to no programming experience, though of course you may find some aspects of each easier to work with if you have some experience.

App Game Kit 2

The original App Game Kit was the culmination of a long standing set of projects by British developers The Game Creators. Its a cross platform game creation kit that can create cross platform games but specialises in making mobile platforms easier to produce for. App Game Kit 2 was funded via kickstarter with the aim of improving the software, and has recently released on Steam’s software section with the hope of gathering new audiences.

App Game Kit’s syntax is AGK BASIC, a relatively simple and easy to use language that uses AGK’s game engine to build 2D or 3D worlds, and is coded within the AGK IDE. I found the IDE a decent professional environment for coding, and it comes with all the features you would expect from any respectable IDE, plus a few little extras. Having some experience with programming before I found AGK BASIC easy to pick up and I was soon cracking on with a quick touch-based project, but for those who haven’t got any experience, you will need to pick up some coding know-how. There are plenty of tutorials out there, made by either TGC themselves or the excellently active and helpful community, which should help ease you into it and answer any questions you might have. The flexibility of the libraries available also mean that once you have learned them, you can make a massive range of games.

App Game Kit 2 has two further secret weapons in its kit that make it quite highly desirable. The first is that if you are exporting to mobile, with a short setup process (basically installing the AGK app on your phone and tweaking a few settings on your desktop) you can test your creations across a Wi-Fi connection instantly at the click of a ‘Broadcast’ button. TGC call this ‘AGK Magic’, and while I found calling it magic a bit of a stretch, it really was quite something to watch my phone happily run the prototype that just seconds ago was compiling on my laptop.

The second secret weapon is that TGC has developed a C++ library that works with the AGK BASIC script. Set up the IDE as such and develop your C++ source code and you should be able to compile your game to run on all platforms just as easily as if you’d used AGK BASIC itself. While I didn’t test it, TGC say that the main advantage of using this Tier 2 C++ code is that apps compile as native binaries, giving the fastest possible performance, which should be a big draw for many experienced coders.

App Game Kit 2 is available for a one-off cost of £75.99 or $99, but its likely to be part of some of Steam’s regular price cutting software sales at some point. While some may find this initial cost a little high, this cost covers all future updates of the software, and while all games created with the kit are royalty free, you will need to find your own platform to sell your game from, if you intend to do that, and those platforms will probably charge fees of some sort.

Axis Game Factory Pro v2

AGFPro v2 differs immediately from AGK2 in that you don’t need to have any programming experience whatsoever to start using it. Rather than a programming environment, AGFPro is meant to be used as more of a world and environment builder, and alongside its export to Unity options you can use it to make your own games quickly and easily. Within a couple of hours I was able to pick it up, build an environment, used the assets to create a small town of buildings and NPCs, and run the game to walk around my own little town, and I actually had quite a bit of fun just creating the town and messing around with some of the options AGFPro gave me.

Comparisons to the basic Unity kits are inevitable here, and while in ways Unity offers a similar scope for world creation and design, there’s a lot of things you can do in AGFPro that you simply can’t in Unity, especially if you take the time to learn some of the more advanced features. Add to that the landscaping tools can allow you to expertly create some really breathtaking environments quite quickly (and the examples on the forums are a testament to that) and you start to see the power of this software, even if at first sight it just looks like a glorified map editor.

However, what AGFPro has in ease of use and style, it lacks in flexibility. Any games you create have a very limited amount of settings you can tinker with, and while I have the premium version, which gives me a few more options, the basic edition of the software gives you not that much that you can do with your creations. There is a reason for that, and its all to do with AGF’s pricing structure.

The basic edition of the kit on Steam will set you back £14.99, which sounds like a very good deal, however, the basic edition is missing a lot of the big features. It will give you a good hint of whats to come, but if you really want to get the most out of the kit, you’re going to want to buy the Premium version, which ups the price to 60 quid, along with some of the long list of packages available that add extra content, such as the Zombie FPS and Fantasy Side Scroller packages, and theres a lot of these packages, some of which come bundled with others, some you can only buy separately. On top of that theres the specific differences between the basic and premium versions, which sometimes isn’t very well mentioned on the Steam store page. The costs can ramp up pretty quickly.

However, all of that said, AGFPro v2 is still a great piece of kit for those who don’t want to get into the nitty gritty of programming, and make a few fun games to play and share with the power of the Unity engine at your back. For those that aren’t happy with the software, Axis Game Factory are constantly pushing updates and improvements along with new assets and packs to allow you to create other kinds of game. The company are even willing to have one-on-one Skype chats with customers to fix any issues, which I think is a great show of goodwill.

Quick Overview :

App Game Kit 2

+ Single purchase price

+ Highly flexible

+ Active and helpful community churning out tutorials and examples

+ Allows you to use C++ code

+ Exporting to multiple platforms and mobile platforms instantly

– Requires some programming knowledge

– Price may be high for some with no more basic versions available

– Could use some more beginner orientated documentation

Axis Game Factory Pro 2

+ Cheap basic edition if you want to try it out

+ No programming knowledge required, easy to get started, great for those starting out looking to make something simple

+ Can quickly build great looking environments and maps with provided assets

– Pricing structure can feel confusing, and for the premium editions can cost as much as other toolkits

– Lack of flexibility and inability to change game rules without buying DLC packages

– Can only export to Unity, which is required for some of the features

So, without further ado, the winner of todays showdown is….

App Game Kit 2!

I should say first up that I don’t feel Axis Game Factory Pro is a bad piece of software, so long as you know what its made for and don’t expect something else. Programmers and more experienced game devs will immediately bounce off its lack of options but those who just want a powerful map editor to toy around in with the minimum of fuss will definitely get their monies worth, once they figure out what packages to buy to suit them best.

App Game Kit 2 however is a much more involved piece of kit, that requires some learning to get the most out of, but once you’ve done the learning you have a very powerful toolset with some great options for exporting across multiple platforms. The choice to use C++ will be massive for some and the instant testing to listening mobile devices over Wi-Fi are two huge plusses, but the flexibility of this kit and the potential it has for creation wins it alone for me.

Next time : Multiplayer Games

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