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Thread: SNESmaker Versus Super N Maker Versus "The Rest:" The Battle of the Super Game-Making SDK's

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    Default SNESmaker Versus Super N Maker Versus "The Rest:" The Battle of the Super Game-Making SDK's

    There is a battle of the Super Nintendo game SDK's which is brewing! The New 8-bit Heroes, LLC, the guys who made NESmaker (which they pronounce as "Ness Maker") have announced that they have been secretly working on a sequel project, a game SDK (software development kit) called SNESmaker (pronounced "S. N. E. S. Maker"...

    [Why mix the two different kinds of pronunciation when their given names are punctuated and capitalized the same way, guys?!].

    However, at the same time, another man named Andrew West has been asking people to submit their e-mail addresses to a form on his Web site which will be utilized by him, when the time is right, to announce the crowdfunding page for his own Super Nintendo Entertainment System SDK - which has a similar name according to The New 8-bit Heroes.

    I haven't been able to find Andrew's Web site despite plenty of searches... Does anybody reading this have a link to it?

    All of this has led to some confusion on behalf of the people who are interested in these projects, especially as neither one is ready yet for prime time.

    Readers can hear more about it via a video from Jim of The New 8-bit Heroes.

    The thing about all of this though is that The New 8-bit Heroes seem to be really bad about finishing projects. Yes, they finished their documentary video "The New 8-bit Heroes" which is about wanting to make their childhood game idea into a working NES game cartridge that runs on a real NES. (Their movie can be viewed via Amazon or other Internet video outlets or purchased from their online shop.) However, the game that is the focus of the documentary, Mystic Searches, is still not finished years after the release of the 2017 movie. Furthermore, another project which they are working on now, Mystic Origins, which was originally going to be a "vertical slice" or beta-quality preview of Mystic Searches, is now going to be a full prequel to it instead. This prequel is currently planned to be released before the originator. However, neither has actually been released yet.

    Meanwhile, the SDK which is being used to develop these games, NESmaker, is itself being developed at the same time. NESmaker still hasn't reached "gold" status (a final build which is to be released for sale) and instead keeps getting major upgrades released every few months which sometimes make big alterations to the heart of the program. Furthermore, the NESmaker SDK has many "cores." A core is what the developers call the sub-engines, modules, or templates for creating games of different genres. The devs. are taking this approach so that the cores can be independently developed with the simplest-to-make ones being made and released first. However, as of yet they have only delivered a few of these cores, so people looking to make platformers (think of Super Mario Bros.) or action adventures (think of the first The Legend of Zelda) are good-to-go - yet those looking to create point-and-click adventure games or turn-based RPG's are, so far, out of luck.

    This brings everything back to the original topic of SNESmaker versus... Super N Maker or SN Maker or whatever the other one (or any other future ones) will be called. The New 8-bit Heroes have only ever delivered one finished product - their documentary plus various digital and physical editions of it - so should people really be waiting to buy their next product when these guys haven't even finished any of their previously announced software products? What of this "friend" of The New 8-bit Heroes called Andrew West? If his crowdfunding campaign should launch anytime soon, then should people financially support it when he seems to be a hardly-known player while at least the other guys have proven themselves somewhat with an alpha-quality SDK for making NES games? ("Alpha-quality" means that the software is neither bug-free nor feature complete but might be in the future.) What about the fact that many of these tools only support Windows and don't have a native version for Macs nor Linux? After all, WINE and its variants are a good way to run such programs under other OS's like Mac OS or the various Linux distributions, but sometimes even WINE can't run certain Windows-only software. The answers to these questions are a resounding, "Perhaps," and why will be explained next.

    People should take a pause and consider the thing that is written about less than these surface-level issues that is very important and perhaps even the most important aspect of all of this: DRM. DRM is an initialism that stands for (depending upon whom is asked) Digital Rights Management or Digital Restrictions Management. The reason that people call DRM "Digital Restrictions Management" is that it restricts the free usage of any programs that include it. DRM is an anti-feature, a negative aspect that causes harm or restrictions to the user or impedes the usage of the program or computer. How pervasive and how invasive depends upon the DRM which is used and what features of it are deployed. How so? Well, they are nanny features that frequently monitor the environment the program is used in, snooping on the user, the program, and how the program is being used, and sometimes narcs back to headquarters about it, usually over the Internet. If the program is being used in a way that the true owner, the copyright holder, doesn't approve of, then the program is forcefully exited on the user's computer or sometimes even worse things might happen. (See DefectiveByDesign for details.)

    But we're talking about NES and SNES games here, right? How in the world would this work? Isn't DRM a modern invention that's a problem for modern games, not games meant for classic consoles? Alas, it is not so. Some might know DRM by yet another name: copy protection. Remember the code wheels for old computer games (such as Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension)? What about the times where one would have to type a certain word from a particular paragraph for a given page number of the manual in order to continue (many adventure games)? How about referring to the instructional manual for information that in no way, shape, or form is present in the game itself nor can be learned from it and yet is required to progress in the game often with instant death being the only alternative (Sierra On-line games and others)? Dip an included map or letter (StarTropics for NES) in lemon juice or the like to reveal a special, normally invisible word hidden in the paper that would have to be entered into the game to continue? Those features and verbose manuals weren't just there to add more value, more fun, and an extra dimension to the gameplay! They were there to fight against piracy and other unauthorized usage.

    Unfortunately these copy protection schemes seem quaint in comparison to what they have evolved into: the burdensome DRM of today. NESmaker is home to such a thing. It is not enough to pay money for the software and be done with it at that. No, the computer has to be "authorized." The DRM included with NESmaker phones home to its master server to make sure that the copy is running on a computer that has either been previously authorized to run the program or that, if it hasn't, that the license holder has permission to authorize this "new" computer to run the program. (Read that as, "The purchaser is not the owner but the indefinite 'renter' of the software.") If one doesn't, then one has to turn to the technical support team at The New 8-bit Heroes to ask them to de-authorize the prior computer and then authorize the current computer. But what if one wants to work on one's game on two computers? Then one has to purchase two licenses, both of which have to then connect to the Internet to make sure one has permission to run the program. Where's the trust?

    What about the future? Does one want to have to "run to father" to ask permission every time one buys a new computer or re-installs its OS? What about if tech support is too busy to help the person in need? What if their database of licenses is lost or turns corrupted? What if their master server crashes or gets hacked? What if The New 8-bit Heroes disbands, their site goes offline, or they get into a legal dispute amongst themselves or with another company - or even worse, they lose a lawsuit and all the software has to be deactivated? Does one want to have poured hundreds of hours or more into developing an awesome game just to lose most of one's progress by no longer being able to use their proprietary tool or accessing one's data that's stored in the program's proprietary formats? Sure, some of it might be stored as plain assembly code and there might be some compiled executable binaries (ROM's) which might have been made before losing the ability to run NESmaker... but does one know 6502 assembly language to pick up the pieces from there? Does one understand how to hack machine code written in 6502 with a hexadecimal editor? For most people the answer is, "No," and all future progress with the project will be lost.

    What should one use instead if one wants to guarantee the freedom to create or modify one's own projects even in the far future and secure one's independence as a game developer? The answer is free (as in freedom) open source software including software development kits and software libraries. Some excellent examples of less-difficult-to-use-than-programming-from-scratch game SDK's include batari Basic and GB Studio.

    With batari Basic all one has to do is program it with the much-less-difficult-than-assembly-code programming language called BASIC. bB even provides a handy, pre-written template to get one started with points-based games including one-player and two-player games. Once a game is written, it can be run through the compiler. After that, it is ready to run with an emulator or a real Atari 2600 / VCS! Thankfully for aspiring game creators, there is a friendly community which has formed around batari Basic which will be happy to answer one's questions and help a little with one's programming problems. Be sure to mind the P's and Q's - please's and thank you's - when getting help from these volunteers!

    But what if one wants something a little more user-friendly than typing in a bunch of BASIC commands? Perhaps one would like to make a Game Boy game instead of an Atari 2600 game? The good news is that GB Studio not only allows for the creation of Game Boy compatible RPG's, making them is simplified thanks to this friendly, modern, drag-and-drop developmental program! One's games can be played in emulators; on real Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Super Game Boy, Game Boy Player (a Nintendo GameCube peripheral), or any other GB-compatible hardware; or even with Game Boy emulators that have been ported to run in modern Web browsers! Eventually the GB Studio developers will be adding more genres to their game SDK. Just like batari Basic, this program is Free with a capital F - for freedom!

    GB Studio v1.2.0 Trailer

    However, what if one wants to develop for a different platform? What about the SEGA Master System, Game Gear, and Genesis / Mega Drive? What about the GameCube, GBA, GamePark 32, DS, Wii, and Nintendo Switch? While there are open source solutions to help indie developers make homebrew software for these platforms including SGDK and devkitPro.org, unfortunately operating them well enough to accomplish something worthwhile is still only within the realm of experienced, technical programmer types. What of the NES and SNES? More or less, it is the same story... unless one uses something streamlined like NESmaker and the just announced SNES equivalents.

    Therein is the conundrum though! People have strong emotions about their favorite consoles. Some therefore have ambitions about making games for their favorite platform(s), not just any random platform because it is easy to develop for it. Sometimes these thoughts of making a personal game project just end up as fun little demonstrations created for an audience of one - the program's own developer - created as playgrounds by the minds of these hopeful game makers that just want to see if game design - but not game programming per se - might be for them. These are the creative people that like things like Mario Paint (SNES), Wacky Worlds Creativity Studio (SEGA Genesis), Dreamstudio (Dreamcast), WarioWare: D.I.Y. (DS), or Super Mario Maker (Wii U), but they also want to move one step forward to go beyond making these works that exist only within the confines of a media creation suite where their works have to stay in their little predefined virtual sandboxes as they depend on the host software and can't be run separately on their own without it.

    Oh what to do, what to do? Does one choose the path of easy-to-use-but-locked-down-with-DRM commercial software like NESmaker? Free and open software which might be simple to use like GB Studio but that is limited to one platform and one genre? Or difficult to use software picks that are very flexible and powerful in their usage where one's imagination is almost the only limit? Well, that depends on one's target platform and stances on certain issues like DRM so that decision, unfortunately, must be left as an exercise for the reader. The true answer is that there is not only one correct answer to the question - but if someone were to pour countless hours into a project one cared a lot about, then that person probably wouldn't want it all to disappear in an unfortunate program update or to lose access due to an unforeseen issue beyond the user's own control.

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    I've got NESMaker but I haven't dabbled too deep into it. I was following along with their tutorial videos but stopped for a while as it was too hard to concentrate as the guy did things so rapidly on top of me having an audience around me. While it's neat to see video on how to do something, it's also good to have a document to follow if for some reason the video doesn't click. Now they have version 4.5 out and a 3 hour "Summer Camp" video that looks to replace the tutorials from before.

    In its current form, NESMaker can help pump out a decent looking/playing NES game-provided you go above and beyond what the tools you are given can provide. The software does some heavy lifting but if you want to go beyond what the modules provide, there be some NES assembly to be used, or at least I think there is-I heard the narrator in one of the videos talk about it as he was manipulating a script in a module. So it doesn't work like Clickteam Fusion, if anyone is familiar with it. It would be nice if there was an actual manual than just videos. I'd pay extra for it so I can sit down and read it over rather than watch a video at their near breakneck speeds.

    I didn't hear about the SNESMaker but I think you're right-they will probably spread themselves too thin. Focus on one thing and get it right and get it done. It seems like they are tweaking NESMaker as they work on their Mystic games.

    As for DRM-I'm not too concerned with it for a product like this. They want some sort of control rather than have the program get out into the wild and then get bombarded with support questions from people that never bought the software. It makes sense for such a small operation. I also work in the corporate/government world, so such things like "phone home" software, software key dongles and the like are the norm where I am.

    The other tools you mention seem like something I wouldn't mind dipping a pinky toe into.

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