Along with the Mac and the idea that computers could be made simple by icons came the idea that programming itself could be made simple by turning it into a visual medium where icons are hooked up to each other with arrows and drop down menus set parameters and so on and so forth. The first I heard of this was on some TV special on a language called "Mandala" - from the brief sketchy research I just did via Google, Mandala later became a VR environment in which very little of what we'd consider true programming was actually done...and when true programming was done, it was with scripts that were written in - you guessed it - text.
Mandala was invented for noble reasons: so that the noble, joyful activity of computer programming could be shared by the masses. We often bring up the idea of making our videogame scripting languages visual sometimes for noble reasons (so programming-alienated game designers can express their game design directly) and sometimes for not-so-noble ones (so we can make videogames a deskilled activity and hire cheaper, unskilled workers, thus turning videogames into a sort of fast-food assembly line operation.) It's the same sort of logic that was behind Fortran - "Non programmers will be able to program."
Let's discuss the not-so-noble reason first.
These languages, in theory, lower the barrier to entry. People who are afraid of or intimidated by programming, by pages full of text, will be more comfortable hooking boxes together, and we've now enlarged the pool of people we can hire.
But we're making a bizarre assumption: that reading and writing text is the hard part of programming. The hard part of programming is actually understanding the logic and flow of programs. The hard part is knowing how to maximize either a program's productivity (by being a kick-ass optimizer) or your own (by knowing how to reuse code, make it readable and extensible, make it less likely to have bugs.) By lowering the barrier to entry, it's like we're reducing the admissions standards to a hard college. The college accepts more applicants and then they flunk out...or barely muddle through.
Now Maxis did this for *The Sims 2*, with Edith, a language where you can connect command-boxes with arrows to create programs.
I only know what a couple of people have told me about Edith, so I may be making a lot of unjustified assumptions, but hiring people who would have been afraid of programming in text to do your programming seems like a terribly inefficient way to get a game made. Of course, having teams of one hundred to two hundred people and cruncing the crap out of them is also terribly inefficient. Efficiency is usually the last thing on EA's mind - as long as they hit their ship dates (their number one priority) and make the best game they can in that timeframe (their number two priority) they're willing to spend a bundle to make that happen. So from that point of view, Edith may actually be a pretty good idea.
But all the programmers and scripters I know, no matter what their skill level, look on these sorts of efforts with horror. With apologies to Jake Simpson, I even met someone who's worked with Edith, and he would have much preferred to program his Sim objects in text.
Visual languages put up a wall between us and the code, making it so we have to do a lot of cumbersome mouse clicking to get our code written. While it may offer advantages - providing a palette of commands we can use, and validating parameters as we create - we'd tend to prefer to just type.
Now let's discuss the more noble reason: not all game designers can program; maybe a visual language would allow them to express their game design directly, instead of having to write a spec which they hand to a programmer.
Chris Hecker once wrote a Soapbox in *Game Developer* magazine where he urged game designers to learn how to program: a game, he argued, is a system of rules out of which gameplay emerges, just as a program is a system of rules out of which behavior emerges. If you can design a game, he figured, you can program a computer.
I'd tend to agree. Game designers in general are pretty smart people who already understand logic, and should be able to learn how to program. Some game designers are *really* smart: Reiner Knizia and Richard Garfield are both mathematicians, and I don't have to tell you about Will Wright.
We have trained a lot of our designers to script with good success. But occasionally I'll meet a designer who does seem a little intimidated by programming. Maybe a visual language is just what they need to get their feet wet; a sort of training wheels. But I imagine once they got proficient with it they'd want to discard it and script directly.