It's one thing to say "hey, world, I could make a kick ass video game" and quite another to actually go and make the thing. The biggest obstacle remains the technical barrier to entry, as games require extensive coding knowledge, the ability to draw things better than stick figures (most of the time, anyway) and other bases of knowledge that can't be learned overnight. The web-based Stencyl is one of many companies who attempts to make that easier for the amateur developer, and the company recently told us about a slew of improvements coming to Stencyl, including support for Flash.
Prior to embracing Flash, Stencyl games were published on Java. Why switch?
"Our switch to Flash has opened up many doors"
"It was a combination of a better user experience and the 97.1% market penetration rate that Flash enjoys," explained Stencyl founder Jonathan Chung over e-mail this week. "Although Java has certain advantages in performance and graphics capabilities, after we released some games to the public, we observed a significant percentage of users running into issues. I ported our engine to Flash and released it in May to testers. Our switch to Flash has opened up many doors; our games can now be posted on popular portals, such as Kongregate and NewGrounds, can be played on Facebook via our upcoming app and can be embedded in posts on personal blogs."
Flash's future has been the subject of debate recently, given Apple's decidedly anti-Flash stance. Games are one of the most popular uses of Apple's iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, and there's little evidence to suggest that Apple will be embracing Flash anytime soon, favoring open standards.
"Apple's "iDevices" [have] always been on our roadmap," he said, "but if we go after that market, we would port our technology to Objective-C to bring it into compliance with Apple's terms."
Outside of expanding distribution, Stencyl is also rethinking the development itself, recognizing wanna-be developers often come in with one set of skills, not every set of skills, required to create a full game. Stencyl's solution, an attempt to counter designers starting the process and giving up, is StencylForge, an iTunes and Wikipedia-influenced marketplace where developers can search for specific tools to can aid their game. If you need a specific add-on, maybe it already exists.
"Early on, our intent was to make it easy for anyone to create games," explained Chung. "After a year, we realized that easy game creation, by itself, wasn't quite the right approach because we were solving the wrong problem. The problem is game creation is inherently hard because people working alone lack all the necessary skills, and often the time, required to create a game. This led us to pivot our toolset's design again."
At the moment, however, you can't actually access Stencyl -- Java or Flash. The toolset is currently in private beta, but Chung told me everyone should have access to Stencyl sometime "this fall."