There it is, right there—that little turn of phrase used to describe Atmoshpir’s ease of use, the all-important term: drag and drop.
It’s almost as if you can do anything with drag and drop these days.
The traditional image of creating computer programs—of numbers and complicated lines of code—while still undoubtedly true, is beginning to be painted over by a slew of new tools promising “ease of use!” with the ear-to-ear smile of door-to-door salesmen.
The latest to fall victim to this trend? Game design.
Atmosphir, a finalist at this year’s TechCrunch Top 50 (see left), and currently in beta, is a game creation tool, featuring an easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface to sculpt 3D game worlds.
Let’s put this new product in perspective. Ever spent an evening playing Super Mario and then wondered how it would be to create a few levels of your own? What if you could make your boss, that terror in the office, a bad guy? And then bounce on him to your heart’s content? Or, even better, what if you could make a complete 3D replica of the office… and then blow it up?
Atmosphir is a new free software application that will help you do just that. Well, almost.
The software features a “design mode” where designers—ordinary people like you and me—can create elaborate and, if one goes by the demo videos, eye-poppingly gorgeous worlds in three-dimension complete with lights, sounds, textures, traps and baddies. Once you are done designing your world, you switch to “play” mode—to run around in your creations and bump into things.
Dream weaver: Atmosphir will enable even novices to create elaborate digital levels that they can then explore and share.
While the software is still in private beta, the demo videos and Flickr stream indicate that the application available for PC and Mac will not just be useful to produce great games but also be fun to use in itself. No wonder developers Minor Studios call Atmosphir itself a game.
The team hopes to build a business model around the tool, and build on more features, including multiplayer support.
At first glance, Atmosphir may not seem like anything new. The practice of “modding”—modifying existing game engines to build new levels, new characters and, sometimes, new game modes—has existed since the release of Doom, nearly 15 years ago. Mods have long been the grounds for amateur developers to prove themselves, and are often the road to success from design obscurity. Counter-Strike started as a mod for the original Half Life, before taking over the world and being played by every man and his shotgun.
But mods are mostly the preserve of hardcore gamers, and getting started on one may seem intimidating to casual players. Atmosphir, however, seems to bridge that chasm, making it attractive to the gamer crowd as well as intriguing to the casuals.
It comes hot on the heels of a number of other game design platforms, though it is arguably the most user-friendly. Microsoft’s Popfly Game Creator lets you create games on its Silverlight platform, which you can then export to sites such as Facebook. Adobe’s new Gamebrix promises to “enable everyone to create Flash games online without any programming” using... you guessed it, “a drag and drop interface”.
Tools encouraging amateur game design are not entirely new, however. The two most popular amateur game development tools, YoYoGames’ Game Maker and Clickteam’s Multimedia Fusion, have been around for years and have large communities built around them.
Though Atmosphir at present seems to restrict itself to only 3D “platform games”—where you basically run, jump and try to avoid traps in a large multi-tiered world a la Tomb Raider—Game Maker and MMF have proven versatile, being used to make all kinds of games from first person shooters to...er...petting simulators.
But the important thing to remember with tools such as Atmosphir and mods in general, says Vivek Sreekumar, a student at the Academy of Animation and Gaming in Gurgaon, is that they’re predominantly about level design, itself only one component of what goes into a game.
Level design is the process of putting together the worlds in which the games are situated, but not how the player interacts with the world. “With game design,” he says, “programming knowledge is almost compulsory. (Tools such as Atmosphir) may make you understand what level design consists of and give you an idea how the framework has to be, where everything goes, and how you make a level interesting.”
But the next step is the most difficult to take. “What really makes those levels come alive is how you interact with it, and that’s where coding comes in: defining particles, stencilling, defining AI routines for enemies and the works.”
Atmosphir doesn’t promise the ability to create the next revolution in gaming. It gives you an easy sandbox to build compelling 3D worlds in—it could be your new house, your work-in-progress fantasy realm or the deepest pits of the netherworld that you can share easily with anyone willing to explore. And that it does in stunning fashion.
Drool at the videos, sign up for a private beta and then keep your fingers crossed till they mail you back. All at www.atmosphir.com