No Programmer No Problem:Artist-Only Games

The current trend towards big middleware developers giving their engines away for free is only going to yield great things. With the intimidating financial up-frontery removed, people with wonderful ideas, a ton of untapped talent and no money will be able to create and publish games made in the likes of Unreal 3 and Unity; no doubt we’ll be posting about many such projects here over the months and years to come.

Here’s an interesting curveball, though: what if someone who isn’t a game developer is let loose on tools this powerful? Sjoerd “Hourences” De Jong, better known as the guy behind the splendid Unreal 3 mod (and soon to become commercial and standalone) The Ball, has been leading a Unreal Development Kit course at Stockholm’s fascinating FutureGames Academy. The course lasted six weeks, all-in: three of tuition, and three spent creating games. The clincher? None of the students had any game design experience. Moreover, no programmers were allowed – only designers and artists. They couldn’t possibly make a game on their own, could they? They bloody well could. Several, in fact.

Here’s maze/puzzle game Spybot:

Made in three weeks by six students with no programming knowledge or prior game design experience!

Here’s giddying first-person-explorer Phobia:

Made in three weeks by six students with no programming knowledge or prior game design experience!

Here’s psychedic Mariolike Iwon:

Made in three weeks by six students with no programming knowledge or prior game design experience!

Here’s bewildering shmup Intergalactic Dentist of Love:

Made in three weeks by… well, you get it. Sure, they’re rudimentary, but that doesn’t mean they’re not hugely impressive achievements. They’re a remarkable precedent, too: now that the tools are freely available, anyone can make a game, given a little time and a bit of will. We’ve seen similar, to some extent, with goodly James Carey’s adventures with our own Rock, Paper, Shotgunity project, only without a tutor cracking a whip. While such early efforts might be rickety in their hugely charming way, this kind of thing is an incredibly important thing to have happened to game development.

(Thanks to Schizoslayer for the tip.)


  1. Ghil says:

    those all look great! Will they be published at all, wether commercial or freeware?

  2. elyscape says:

    Intergalactic Dentist of Love is quite possibly the best name I’ve seen for a game since Gratuitous Space Battles.

  3. Springy says:

    This is terrible. If they keep removing hurdles to doing things like this then soon I’ll have no excuses left to mask my own lack of ability.

  4. raigan says:

    Methinks this article is a tad hyperbolic — AFAIK there’s no way to avoid programming if you’re using UDK: you can’t avoid scripting, which *is* programming. So on each team there must have been at least one person who wrote scripts, hence at least one de facto “programmer”.

    But this is still really cool though.

    • Starky says:

      I think the point, as with the shotgunity project is that a non-programmer can still make something playable, by using community scripts.

      So while I’m sure some of those guys had to do some script work, they did so (and got results) with zero programming knowledge or experience – which is what makes it impressive.

    • raigan says:

      I guess this is Artist Programming, the bizzarro-land version of Programmer Art? :)

    • Stuk says:

      Haha, very interesting. I wonder what Artist Code looks like…

      …on second thoughts, based on some of the disaster-code I’ve seen, maybe I don’t.

    • Flimgoblin says:

      it’s as pretty as coder-art ;)

  5. Chiller says:

    Nice! I’m in the exact opposite camp myself – every time I feel like making a game, I’m unable to handle the artsy stuff despite my (rather good) programming skills. Well, at least I can keep on cheering for the expanding indie development universe and the tools that make it possible.

    • Pie21 says:

      This. Hopefully these kinds of precedents will encourage a new generation of artists and we can all meet up some day…

  6. Mark says:

    I’d be more interested in seeing programmer-only game development, myself, but I admit that I have a bit of bias there. Art is the big bottleneck.

    • Baboonanza says:

      Not necessarily. I think a programmer only Indie game is possible, it just limits you. A lot can be achieved with simple/stylised graphics and procedural generation.

      Introversion in particular make games that look like they don’t use artists. Vic Davis (Solium Infernum) contracts out the art for his games I think. Also Love.

    • yhancik says:

      Eskil Steenberg IS an artist!

  7. Starky says:

    I think for next summer break I’m going to dedicate a few weeks to designing a game (or at least all the assets needed, and the design of it) then head across to the Unity forums and beg, bribe, or blackmail some coders into helping me assemble it.
    Or maybe just bite the bullet and force myself to go through the chore of learning some JavaScript.

    Or maybe I’ll just dump the complete plan, and all the building blocks down and let others pick it up or not, as they wish.

  8. Ging says:

    @raigan Actually, it’s possible you could get away with doing loads of that stuff via kismet – it’s actually pretty easy to setup some basic gameplay logic via kismet without touching uscript. Admittedly, I’ve not done any kismet in UDK, but I’d reckon the same basic building blocks are there.

  9. MikeG says:

    As programmer who writes game its so hard to find artists who are willing to do some game work. Please keep tools away from them to make people like me obsolete!

    • Jakkar says:

      Is it? I guess that depends how good you term an artist =D

    • Alexander Norris says:

      It’s the same situation in the Source modding community and, I imagine, in other modding communities.

      Don’t give artists access to development kits! Don’t let other projects drain the already small pool of good, competent artists floating around and willing to make games in their spare time!

      Save the mods, boycott UDK!

      (Okay, not really re: the boycott thing, but still.)

  10. K.Boogle says:

    How I wish it was “No Artist No Problem”
    I couldn’t even draw a proper square if I tried!

  11. jackflash says:

    Last game stole the music from Space Quest. Stealers.

  12. Biz says:

    don’t lump designers together with artists

    designing games may be an “art” but artists = people who make models and draw stuff, not people who make levels and gameplay

    the problem has always been that people can learn a little bit of “scripting” and learn how to use a game-making software, but they don’t have access to all the 3D models they need to make a game someone will actually play

  13. Casimir's Blake says:

    Stockholm. Not surprising. These trailers have “demoscene” written all over them.

  14. Spacewalk says:

    This is making UDK look very enticing. If a bunch of no coders can do that with the engine in a short space of time then maybe I should consider moving on from Klik & Play for all my game development needs.

    • Setheran says:

      Klik & Play :) I poured so much time into that when I was a kid – and the Games Factory, too, with all its bugs ruining everything. I think it actually gave me a pretty big advantage when it came to learning Kismet for UE3 years later, or just a better understanding of game scripting in general.

  15. gin says:

    For everyone wanting:
    * A similar workshop/jam program
    * Programmer-made games
    * Free art assets

    You may have missed last month’s Assemblee, which:
    * Was a competitive game jam
    * Programmers with no art skills made games
    * Free CC-licensed art and music, supplied by artists, available to public as well as makers

    don’t lump designers together with artists

    Ah, youth.

  16. Jakkar says:

    Mwahahaha. Goodbye, coders! No longer shall you keep me from my dreams!

  17. Magic H8 Ball says:

    Idyllic. But so far it looks like a bunch of kids in a sandbox who got a bucket. Makes you wonder how long till they realize it’s just a goddamn bucket.

  18. Schmung says:

    Read some of the thread on the unreal forums – this was pretty interesting :

    To keep the scope small, we gave them Iphone limitations. So no normal maps, no fancy stuff. Diffuse/Emissive/Alpha only. Max. 24 MB worth of textures used. Max 7000 triangles in view at all times.

    Anyways, for those moaning about art/code being a bottleneck maybe it’s worth making a thread on RPS where like-minded folk can network and whatnot? There’s always a bottleneck with some sort of resource – be it a specific type of art resource or just time. Way back when the HL2 SDK was released I was part of small mod team – we had a lot of the primary art assets done or nearly done, but we had no-one to animate anything and we got through six people who said they’d code for us and never wrote more than a few lines because they’d over-committed themselves. Often, time is the resource you’re missing and not necessarily people.

  19. kyynis says:

    Mo’ Artists Mo’ Problems

  20. DXN says:

    No Coder No Cry

  21. Donkeydeathtasticelastic says:


  22. Carra says:

    No programmers allowed? Discrimination!

  23. Tei says:

    The Gods of Software invented Procedural Content so programmers can make games withouth th0se pesky Artist problemmaking around .

    Mappers. Who need mapper?
    You write a “MOD” importer.

    Face moddelers.
    Who need these people? read a few “papers” about procedural face modelling, and create a algorithm that can create 90 million differente faces, using phicis, bones and skin.

    Science > Art.

    You can animate a body falling to the ground, or you can program advanced ragdoll phisics. On the first you need a puppet master, on the second you need a programmer.

    • Tei says:

      In about a 101% of the games, you need both, programmers and artist.

  24. LionsPhil says:

    Pah. Let’s now see them scale-up to full-size games without completely falling apart under the inevitable unexperienced and bad implementation decisions.


    As for “programmer no artist” games, contemplate (oft-inaccurately titled) “ASCII graphics” games. Hell, anything retro can be an expectations management game.

  25. Jahkaivah says:


    Press Left Mouse Button To Start

  26. Bib Fortuna says:

    So, they are not programmers but “artists”? Mmm. After such introduction I really was expecting something more “artsy”… They seem to me just ordinary lame programmers…

  27. DrazharLn says:

    Maybe there will be cake, or, indeed pie.

  28. nihilocrat says:

    Just learn how to code, fuck, I learned how to use a music sequencer, and a 3D modeller, and I’m now just beginning to figure out animation.

    • Michael says:

      You must be a special type of idiot, to express such a deeply silly statement in a thread about artists making their own games without the aid of a programmer. Learning programming is one thing, but we’re talking about already skilled artists, whose main focus is on improving their art, being able to cobble together a game with (I presume) scraps of example-code and a helpful community. Learning to code really isn’t anywhere on their todo-list, except for maybe some light scripting to enhance their 3d modelling tool of choice and to get into shader-editing.

  29. Christoffer says:

    Hey nihilocrat! It’s Christoffer from TIGSource. I do actually know how to code (and I worked on the teleport project) but I don’t know or particularly like UTScript. I love the DIY spirit but you must remember that not everyone can teach themselves. Some need more help than others.

    I’ve had a lot of fun during this project (and I’ve been very frustrated at times as well). I think it’s awesome to see so many people with very little prior experience create these prototypes in just three weeks.

    So lay off the elitist behaviour! ;)

  30. Michael says:

    Luckily, there are plenty of artists out there, and they’ll gladly add pretty things to your game. As long as you can demonstrate your own skill by doing something decent first.
    Make something with placeholder ‘art’ (box-men walking around box-worlds shooting boxy bullets out of boxy guns) and make the importing pipeline easy, and I doubt you’ll have trouble finding artists. To get the best of the best, I’m sure you realise you need something exceptional on your end as well.

    Pie21: A new generation of artists? What moontalk is this? There are plenty of them out there, of varying degrees of skill! / / are overflowing with them. Given the less than stellar job-market at the moment, more than a few of them would be all too willing to get involved in an indie project. In fact, the only two indie projects I remember being posted at Polycount now both look absolutely delightful, having attacted talented artists by showing off the game/editing suite.

    • Michael says:

      Ah, the dreaded non-replying reply in action. This was in reply to Chiller’s post!