Many people will tell you it’s impossible to create a video game without programming. Fortunately, if you find programming to be too difficult or intimidating, those people are wrong! There are a growing number of software packages available that will allow to create a great game without programming or just some minimal (and often optional) scripting. Some people might rush to point out that the solutions I’m going to suggest are technically still programming — and technically, that’s true — but by allowing you to express you game logic with drag-and-drop functionality or through simple menus rather than typing in code, you’ll likely find the task much less intimidating.
Before we get into the options, a quick note on the scope and scale of your games: this is a trade-off, and you don’t get something for nothing. You can make very polished and fun games using these tools — and if you’re good enough you can even sell them and earn some money — but you won’t be making top-quality 3d masterpieces with hour upon hour of game play like professional AAA developers make. Those games are created by large teams of developers who have years of experience, and have gigantic budgets. If you have reasonable expectations you will probably be very happy with the games you can make using these tools.
Now that that’s out-of-the-way…
Construct 2 is a wonderful Windows-based editor that allows you to create 2d games using a simple editor and by expressing your logic using a visual “event” system. The editor is designed to create HTML5-based games that run in the web-browser, but also features exporters for desktop executables, iOS phones and tablets and Android mobiles. For some examples of what Construct can do, check out some of the games in the Scirra Arcade. Construct 2 has a detailed user manual, a growing collection of detailed tutorials and sample applications, and a helpful and active community of users. The free trial version features all of the editor functionality, and a personal licence is a once-off fee of US$120, giving you all future updates to the software. A “business” licence is required only if you earn more than $5,000 revenue from your Construct creations, and is reasonably priced at only US$400.
Like Construct 2, Game Maker offers a visual editor for creating your game, but allows more advanced users to further customise their games using a simple scripting language called GML, or Game Maker Language. This can be used as a starting point for those who hope to move on to programming at a later stage, but is also a very capable editor that can be used to produce high-quality games for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, and HTML5-capable web-browsers. There are a number of different Game Maker versions available, with those most expensive priced at US$99 and a free trial available before deciding to purchase.
Legend of Fae is an example of a commercially successful Game Maker creation.
RPG Maker is focused on creating traditional styled role-playing games. A number of different versions are available ranging in price from US$30 to US$90. Although this tool is more specialised and can not be used to create different types of games, it does a good job creating RPG games, and also includes collections of graphics and audio to get you started creating your games. Award-winning indie game To the Moon is an example of a successful game created with RPG Maker.
Blender Game Engine
Blender is reasonably well-known as a free and open-sourced 3d modelling package, but they also provide a game engine which can be programmed either using Python, or visually by placing dragging and dropping “logic blocks”. You can create 3d games with this engine, and it’s completely free (even for commercial use), but the community is still creating documentation and tutorials, so although the engine is reasonably easy to use it can be a bit intimidating for a beginner to get started.
FPS Creator does one thing, and does a pretty good job of it for only US$50. This editor will allow you to produce good-looking 3d shooter games. Basic scripting is available for more advanced customizations, but a standard shooter can be created using only the editor. The creators of this package also provide bundled of pre-made content that can be purchased for very reasonable prices.
Real Crafter claims to allow you to create a MMORPG. Personally, I think that claim is a bit grandiose — and your hopes will probably be shattered if you purchase the package intending to make the next “RuneScape” or “World of Warcraft” — but the package will allow you to create a 3d multi-player role-playing game you can play with — or against — your friends. The editors provides numerous features to customise your game, and costs US$100. Again, the creators also offer bundles of pre-made content for purchase. You can get an idea of how Realm Crafter works from this user review on YouTube.
It’s true that you get more control by programming a game rather than simply using an editor — and you certainly need appropriate expectations to be happy with editors like the ones listed — but you can create a game without having to get your hands dirty with “real” programming, and it doesn’t have to be some crappy arcade game no one will want to play.