It’s Easier Than Ever to Get Into Game Development

Jeremy Ray
Indie Games Games
Indie Games Games

We’re focusing on indie games this month, as it’s a typical calm-before-the-storm pre-E3 May. There are far too many indie games to play than we can possibly cover, and that’s a great problem to have. It’s become easier than ever to make and publish an independently developed game, which is great news if you’ve got a great idea in the back of your head.

Of course, everyone has an idea. It’s the execution that matters. It’s also important that your idea isn’t just a theme. It needs to be more than just “Pirates in the 1600s,” or “Like that movie The Cube, but with dinosaurs.”

Best Indie Game 2016-Darkest-Dungeon-Firewatch-Hyper-Light-Drifter Games

You need to think about how the game will actually play. What camera perspective is it? What happens when you push the buttons? What are your goals? Your win states and fail states? What makes the mechanics of this game interesting and unique?

But of course, it can be equally valuable just to load up a gamemaking program and stuff around. It’s fun, you’ll learn, and it’s mostly free up until a point. Time spent valuably.

Just how easy has it become to get started? Let us count the ways. We’ll go through some of the best programs and resources below to help bring your vision to life, whether it’s pirates or dinosaurs or, if you think the world is ready, both.

Engines Aplenty

Unity and Unreal are by far the most popular engines for indie developers these days, but for many starter projects, they’re overkill. For example, we see many 2D games made in Unity that could have been made far quicker and easier in Gamemaker.

But there’s a very strong argument for using what everyone else is using. These engines are the industry standard, and when you start working on projects with a few people or more, it helps to have a common language. Walking into an interview with a few Unity games under your belt is a strong proposition.

Just know that committing to learning these tools is very closely linked to learning more serious programming languages. You won’t get the full power of Unity without being able to script in C#, and the same goes for Unreal. Most engines on this list have some sort of “make games without coding” tools, but sooner or later (probably sooner) you’re going to want to code so you get exactly what you want.

Godot screenshot coding
Godot has a few language options, including C# and C++

Godot is a free, open source engine which is worth checking out as well. It has similarities to the other software options, so you don’t have to worry about the time you spend only helping you in one app. And its community is starting to accumulate a healthy stash of Youtube tutorials, with helpful tutors like Heartbeast now devoting time to it.

We’re incredibly partial to Gamemaker Studio 2. It’s not free, but it’s the best option for quickly knocking together 2D games. Great full games have been made from it as well, such as Spelunky, Hotline Miami, Hyper Light Drifter, Undertale, and many more. But for bashing out a fast prototype or just sticking in the realm of 2D, it can’t be beat.

Hotline Miami dialogue
Many successful 2D games have been made in Gamemaker, including Hotline Miami

Gamemaker’s proprietary language (called Gamemaker Language, or GML) is itself very much like Javascript. So while you’re not learning C# or C++, it’s an easy jump from GML to the language of the web.

If you really don’t want to get down into the nitty gritty, or maybe just want to try something more narrative-focused, why not give Twine a go?

The Right Tools for the Job

Beyond the engines, there are a host of smaller tools to help you get started. Indie developers wear many hats, and you may not be especially excited about one particular aspect of making games. In these cases, let the tools help.

If you’re not super keen on making your own sprites for example, or don’t want get your hands dirty with making genuinely new sound effects, there are royalty-free solutions. You can use these for prototypes just to see how the game might work, or you can keep them in all the way till completion.

There are scores of lists of free assets intended for gamejam competitions, or other kinds of rapid prototyping.

For creating images, both Paint.net and Gimp are free. Pixen, Aseprite, and GraphicsGale are useful specifically for putting together sprites as well. For putting together tilemaps, try Ogmo, Tiled Editor, and Dame Editor.

bfxr adjustable sliders
Nice and easy sound effect creation with bfxr

How about sounds? Definitely check out Bfxr. This nifty app lets you quickly make sound effects based on adjustable sliders. You can create it on the website and export the WAV, or download the app to your PC.

And hey, here’s another big list for the heck of it.

Of course if you’re short on game ideas, you can always just ask what would Molydeux?

The above just scratches the surface of what’s available, and we didn’t want to clutter this post will all the options. If you’re after more, or don’t see something you want (such as 3D models, or more audio options), just search for lists of game jam resources and you’ll be overwhelmed.

Schools for Everyone

Not only are there great free options for doing, there are great free options for learning.

Youtube is great. We’ve been watching the likes of Shaun Spalding, Heartbeast, rm2kdev and more for Gamemaker tutorials. You can find a wealth of Unity and Unreal lessons as well.

Just listen to Heartbeast’s soft, sweet voice. We could listen to it on loop:

We’ve also tried out a few of Codecademy‘s gamified coding lessons, and they’re a very good way to learn programming languages.

Udacity and Coursera have plenty of game development related courses. These and Codecademy are free, but will try to sell you on full courses that have website-sponsored qualifications at the end of them. A paid version of these sites is Udemy. We’ve tried all of them and found them useful, especially Udemy’s Unity and C# course.

Great Communities

Even if you’re going solo, it helps to have some people to bounce ideas off of and get feedback from. If you’ve got a coding, design, or artistic problem to solve, reaching out for help can save you immeasurable time. The great thing about game devs is, pretty much wherever you go, they’re happy to help.

The International Game Developers’ Association is a great global community for meeting people, collaborating, getting advice on your game, or if it’s anything like here in Australia, just having a few beers.

We also highly recommend the Global Game Jam, which spawned out of such meetings and has since become its own once-per-year event. This is a 48 hour sprint to create a game with either people you just met, a pre-made team, or solo. If you’re just getting into game development and/or already have some skills, this can be a baptism of fire in all the right ways.

You can find a list of existing IGDA chapters here, and you can even start your own. It’s in most major cities.

But there are also usually local communities not associated with the IGDA. They might be more focused on something else, like board games, VR, or talking about high level game design theory. Searching through social media for your city and game groups is the best idea — throw in words like “design” or “development” if you need to.

We’ve personally used many of the above tools and resources, and can vouch for them. By far the hardest thing to get around if you’re starting from scratch is the coding and finding your way around the engines. But the tutorials are great for that.

Purely from watching Youtube videos and stuffing around, we’ve managed to tackle even harder projects that aren’t recommended for your first game, such as random level generation. The tools are there, and they’re free to start with, so if this is your calling, now is the best time to jump in.

Jeremy Ray
Managing Editor at FANDOM. Decade-long games critic and esports aficionado. Started in competitive Counter-Strike, then moved into broadcast, online, print and interpretative pantomime. You merely adopted the lag. I was born in it.
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