Letters from Somnolescent February 2, 2024

Promptly Forgotten: Remembering MyGameBuilder.com

by dotcomboom

Hi! Welcome to this quick demonstration of “My Game Builder”, a new tool to allow you to build games for yourself and for your friends, online, using just a web browser. The tool is free to use, and free to share with your friends.

Around 13 years ago – February 2011, because I distinctly remember making Valentine’s Day cards to sell to my family members, entrepreneurship right there – I found a website called MyGameBuilder, and thought it was pretty neat. I found it through a Notepad tutorial – the way I formed all my great ideas as a little kid, like making picture viewers and custom notepads in Visual Basic, and also getting free coins on Club Penguin. The “make a game free” search query would deliver a few times through my childhood in the forms of Sploder and Roblox, but MyGameBuilder was the first.

I made goofy, primitive games, like a ‘platformer’ within the constraints of the top-down RPG style of MGB. Even though you’re above a ground tile, each “sky tile” above you may push you up to a platform, or push you back down when you go in that direction. Which one to press the up arrow on, was entirely guesswork. I showed them off to my friends whenever I got a chance in computer lab, breaking their attention from Arcademic Skill Builders or Super Mario Flash.

Even with these constraints, MGB had cool games. There was Ice Penguinz (3:20 in the first video), a polished, puzzling game from ShakeAndBake – esteemed creator of Burger Man – where you’re a penguin in an icy cave, skating from a rock tile to another, trying to find the best path to the exit. There was Mario Kart MGB, with a wide assortment of characters and stages, including some homegrown on-site favorites to choose from.

There was a game simply titled Arcade by Jack95, in which you pick up credits on the table your mom left for you on the kitchen table, and then embark on a journey to the Arcade, using underground tunnels along the way for fast, free transportation. When you get to the arcade, you’re presented with a checkered floor and arcade machines that lead to individual minigames based Pac-Man and Galaga. Walk up to one one, punch in one of your credits through the dialogue prompt, and off you go into a whole other world. I distinctly remember playing that one during an after-school program.

poorly drawn recreation of an underground tunnel scene

These weren’t even the most ambitious games by MyGameBuilder’s community. Collaboration was happening all the time, and each user had a wall, badges to demonstrate their prowess, and often projects with graphics one could freely use (“Projects” grouped maps, assets, and the moving game objects “actors” together). There was 2 Cities: Bother and Wise, a game I didn’t totally understand as a kid, but was aesthetically well done and acclaimed on-site for its storytelling. So much so, that it was used to illustrate the site’s long-awaited, true and beautiful HTML5 future in 2017.

(More on the 2017 MyGameBuilder v2 in a bit, but this video does illustrate the way actor maps worked. This is the what the original MGB utilized as well, though I feel it was laid out in a slightly more intuitive fashion.)

I even begged my parents to let me make an email account so I could join the MyGameBuilder.com Forum. Judging by their attitudes with speaking to strangers on the internet, I’m pretty sure they didn’t know what an internet forum was. And if they had known I was going to make up goofy song lyrics about search engines like “Gooooglooooglooogle!” and “Yahoo yahoo yahoo!” and clutter the Off Topic board with them, I’m sure they wouldn’t have let me. After some of these exploits, I found myself locked out of that account, with the avatar changed to some Dry Bones-like thing because I was banned. I totally still should not have been on the internet at that time.

I still fell in love with the idea of forums, though, after that experience. I found WAMPServer, which let me install Simple Machines Forum 2.0 on my own computer, and it was through that that I learned how localhost and IP addresses worked. It was so cool to me, a place I could leave messages and my family members across the network could read them. I figured out how to change the logo, add my own profile pictures to choose from. Download themes! I was wowed by mods for SMF, namely SMFShop, which let members get points for posting and spending them on prizes like getting their thread stickied. Even though I didn’t actually have people to join my forums, I still made them because it was fun just planning it all out.

When I found free PHP hosting a couple years later, I wanted to make one for my classmates, and that spun into trying a ton of other scripts. None of the YouTube clone scripts ever worked, but I found Softaculous through that free host, and interesting projects such as the onEye “web operating system”, Pluck, and WordPress.org, too. (As an aside do you remember SilveOS, too? An OS in Silverlight? That was fun.) Further out in 2014, I found Mysidia Adoptables, so I could make a game theoretically like PowerPets. I hadn’t gotten into Neopets, so that was the closest analogue I had. And that was like, kind of a thing, in CPets (short for cool pets!), which used freebie graphics from the script’s forums. You could adopt a pixely Shiba Inu, put it in your forum signature, and level it up with clicks. You could buy cereal – in the form of a glorious MS Paint black rectangle cereal box with yellow text.

Though Game Maker 8 Lite and Visual Basic 2008 Express provided the initial spark that got me into programming things and trying to innovate and throw ideas together, I could make a case just as easily that it began with MyGameBuilder. Seeing the things people were making, with their art and mapping and item mechanics and entertaining dialogue, and wanting to make something of my own. Checking the unread posts page on the forums each day, peeking at the who’s online metrics, and of course playing games and trying to push the simplified, but charming Actor-based engine it provided. The games were memorable, and I get warm fuzzies from those times. Pretty quickly it turns to a mild longing.

I can’t show you those games. Not beyond pieces of video footage, scattered about on YouTube. Unless it was recorded in one of those, I can’t show you that Arcade game Jack95 made, nor can I be certain it was made by someone named Jack95. I can’t verify if Jack95’s icon was a golden retriever, and neither can I remember the game where you build a bridge across a river to progress, or the aquarium where you can feed the fish with a cursor as the player character. Let alone my own games, like the black & white town map with rentable space (write on my wall if you want a house!), or the PC simulator I made, with an ‘OS’ and a monitor surrounding it. Not my “project1”, the first game you’re invited to make with an account.

When the new, true and beautiful MyGameBuilder v2 launched, transitioning to a new, if slightly clunkier to use HTML5-based ActorMap engine, this brand new startup that took the project under its wing hosted a couple Hour of Codes, had the existing user base migrate to writing phaser.js code, and quietly folded within a couple of years. The landing page for the new site survives as of writing, so someone is paying the bills, but probably not for much longer. The CEO still links it in his Github bio, but his LinkedIn suggests he’s moved on to other projects. (Microsoft Teams in the Metaverse – hey, pays well. Good for him.)

Any and all access to the games, wiped clean and promptly forgotten about. Moving towards the login page only returns a 503:

503 Service Unavailable: No endpoints to handle the request. If you're the owner of this app, see this article for more information: http://bit.ly/2uCFzOo (7)

It’s heavy to lose. I have more vivid memories of MGB games than even some other Flash games, and it wasn’t a really large site, though it felt popular and huge when I was first on it. I’ve never been able to strike up a conversation around it, not really – it’s too obscure, and the odds are more likely for the likes of Sploder to be remembered and preserved thanks to archival efforts. MGB wasn’t a super sophisticated game creation engine, but it was simple, fun, and some Jolly Good Ideas were put together in it. There were a ton of cool and creative games that only exist in the vague memory of those who played them.

What still survives is the apphost url used on the original site at https://s3.amazonaws.com/apphost/MGB.html, the SWF, with all the internal client logic within, and some other assets like music and images that were stored on AWS S3. Around a year ago, I started poking at the SWF. Finding URLs to pngs and mp3s in the source and realizing they weren’t ever archived, I hastily saved them on the Wayback Machine (the swf was already saved, but these were not). I also did a little more poking around at the time to see if I could write a server to restore some functionality, possibly to be able to make and edit games in the future.

Following a conversation last night we were having on the shoutbox of the web community and friend of the network Aftersleep about losing personal files (whether by neglect, or by conscious deletion), I was reminded of the project, and thought it’d be good to upload whatever I had gathered in this Github repository. It includes a scrappy log receiving server, the flash file, a basic decomp and a patched flash file to try to use a local server for the session. It isn’t much, but it should hopefully show that a reimplemented server is possible.

After witnessing two videos I had added to a playlist get privated out of the blue and lost entirely, pertaining to Doritos Crash Course (Avatar Crash Course)’s original pitch – the original presentation from the contestant explaining mechanics and power-ups, it’s made me very nervous to how the sands of time will affect stuff I care about online, no matter how niche. Having MyGameBuilder.com wiped clean, whether that being by 15+ year old YouTube accounts getting expired at some uncertain date, or that AWS apphost biting the dust, along with all the music files, that’s loss of history. I don’t want more of MGB to be forgotten than what already has.

I hope that this post, and that repository, is a fair contribution to MGB’s legacy. Maybe someone else will find it interesting, or maybe I’ll figure out how to make the cogs work. I go into more detail in the README, the pieces are largely there – a backend just needs to be tied together, with some know-how I’m not sure I have at the moment. Whichever the case, I’m gonna try to preserve that memory a little more where I can.

About dotcomboom

Retrotech and plushie enthusiast. Author of AutoSite and maintainer of w2krepo.

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