Project Update: Why Stencyl?

When working with Defender of Azekal I had a few criteria other than it simply being an educational game. I’m a long-time supporter of free software, and though Stencyl itself isn’t FOSS it has a number of things that are very enticing from that perspective.

The first of these is Stencyl Forge. It presents a nice unified way to get things for games, and while I’m not using content from it to help develop Defender of Azekal (I’m making my own from scratch for consistency’s sake), I’ll be releasing at least a stripped down version (without the storyline content) through it. It allows unskilled developers to download example code or codeblocks and content or games straight from the market place. This is ideal, because not only can an educator look at Defender of Azekal to figure out how it ticks, but they can figure out how to get it to do certain things, including potentially as a test proctoring method, though as it stands it’s not academically rigorous for that.

However, there’s also an ease-of-use factor. Stencyl is very simple to use, and while I’ve used similar tools in the past it’s quickly become my favorite. It works with imported RGBA .png files for images, which is what I usually export anyway (that’s pretty much an industry standard now, but it wasn’t always), the code-blocks are versatile, and there’s just a lot of stuff you can do with it. The community’s also very helpful, when you find the right people and ask in the right places. In addition, Stencyl handles a lot of things for the developer (as most engines do), and runs on a variety of operating systems, which is a plus, since teachers often don’t make a huge salary and may be working on a variety of systems; Linux is free, and something that can work on it is a plus.

Another key element is portability. Stencyl can deploy to a number of platforms, but crucially, it can deploy to Flash. Theoretically, Flash isn’t the be-all and end-all for game development, and indeed it’s not actually the best way to make and distribute games, but it’s portable, which is a huge help. Technically, Stencyl can deploy to a number of platforms, but I’m focusing on the free feature set, for the purposes of wanting anyone to be able to create a derivative of Defender of Azekal quickly and efficiently; I’m not sure what targets will be free in 3.0, but 2.2 is free now for the sorts of purposes I need it for.

Speed is also important; Stencyl advertises some really fast concept->prototype->finished game transitions, which is nice, and I want to make sure that I’m working with a system that is modular enough that core elements of the gameplay can be swapped out without too much issues. It’s really quick to do stuff with, and at least for Flash exporting it catches most errors on compile.

Stability is another must. The last thing I want is a glitchy, crashing-to-desktop mess. For the most part, that means the onus is on me to do stuff without messing up too badly, but there’s something to be said for a tool that has both the ease of codeblocks and the ability to check the actual code that powers them, and Stencyl runs pretty smoothly on my laptop.

So, in short, Stencyl is nice because it’s a solid platform that has a low entry barrier and exports to a variety of useful formats that almost anyone with a computers can use.

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