by

Making Games with Browser-Based Flowlab.io

Last semester was the first time I encountered a new challenge for my online class: some of my students were using Chromebooks as a primary computer. Several ProfHackers have tried Chromebooks out with mixed results, but I find the biggest challenge they present is the limitation on development software options. Picking the right game-making tool to assign for students requires careful consideration: many platforms are limited to either Mac or PC, making picking a tool that all students can use easily at home a challenge. There are a few browser-based game-making tools (my favorite is Twine 2.0, although I still prefer the downloadable 1.x versions), but most of the best-supported tools are download only. Given these requirements, I’ve been watching for a strong contender for teaching among browser-based game-making tools. My favorite so far is Flowlab.

Flowlab is currently free for limited use (which is fine for most class assignments) as a beta. It offers a simple browser-based platform for making low-resolution two-dimensional games. I’m trying it out this semester with students in an online class, and I’m optimistic that its straightforward use will make it beginner-friendly and avoid the cross-platform pitfalls of other tools. It has export features for iOS and Android, making it a fun potential platform for students who would like to see their casual games on a mobile device. However, it also has one of the more elegant systems for representing code that I’ve seen, reminiscent of the block-based structures of Scratch, Stencyl, and Construct 2. It uses a visual linking system (shown below) that can be great for explaining core concepts. This makes it a potentially strong choice for course projects where one objective is developing procedural literacy and an understanding of logic.

The built-in tutorial system makes it fairly easy to get a character moving around, although anything else will require more tinkering with the behavior system. The biggest challenge with Flowlab is its fairly limited set of resources and tutorials. It works best for basic projects that use platformer mechanics and tend to have the feel of classic arcade games. The most newcomer-friendly feature of Flowlab is the ability to take existing games and open them in the editor. This is a straightforward way to see what works and how behaviors are organized and attached on more complicated examples.

For a course where game design is a primary objective, I’d recommend something a bit more robust, particularly if there’s lab time with designated computers. Poor internet connections can be the biggest problem when working on any cloud-based platform, and ultimately there are other tools that offer a more integrated transition from building block behaviors to code. But for an introductory experience or an online class, Flowlab.io can be a great choice of platform.

Have you tried Flowlab.io? Share your tips and resources in the comments!

Return to Top