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Indie game development – where to start

The barrier for entry to indie development has never been more open

Indie game development: where to start? Great news! You can start making games with the right tools that are readily available for beginners.

My indie game development work - Sweet Pea Screenshot

The barrier is in your head… mostly

Many people at some point find themselves wanting to make a video game but immediately find a wall of self doubt thinking that without school, money or some sort of rocket science understanding of code it could never happen. This is not the case. However the vast number of ins and outs can be intensely overwhelming. Plus like anything with such complexity the more you learn the more you realize how much more there is to learn. So while it is not easy it’s not as impossible as it may seem.

The right tools for the job

Great news! You can start designing and developing video games with the right tools that are readily available for beginners and super affordable! The days of having to pay hefty fees to license a game engine or build your own are over! Some excellent programs include the Unreal engine, Game maker, Construct, Godot and my personal favorite Unity just to name a few there is no shortage of engines to use. As well as some more accessible all be it limited options like Core or Dreams that are great for beginners. There  are a multitude of methods and tools for game design and development. There are also many free tools for art and music which can be personalized and implemented into one’s development. Some of  which include Blender 3D is great for building 3D models. It also offers a multitude of options for texturing, animation, 2D work and video editing. An all around great tool. Gimp is fantastic for 2D work and is similar to Photoshop in the tools, mechanics and output options. Audacity is great for recording and editing you own sound effects, music and voice overs. Finally, LMNS is a free DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that allows the user to build and personalize tracks from sampled instruments.

My indie game development work - Sweet Pea Screenshot - dark

A place to land

Not long ago getting your game on Valve’s Steam platform was like scaling Mount Everest with no equipment. These days, it’s a much smaller mountain and there are many more options and avenues to get the user’s desired outcomes! Obviously Steam is the go-to for mainstream developers, whereas itch.io’s platform has more of a focus on indie developers and projects. As far as the mobile platforms Google Play is very user friendly, same for the Apple store though i am not as familiar. I would highly suggest starting with itch.io as it is geared toward indie games and has no cost.

The skills to pay the bills

All of the previously mentioned tools have there own pros and cons, bring their own unique twists and have their own complexity when it comes to ease of use. Most offer tutorials and documentation to aid anyone feeling lost. Many have wonderful communities that are normally happy to help people in need. I myself, have taken advantage of such threads and gaming forums when needed and have continued to reference them over the years. As far as coding there are many resources to learning. Coding can still be a bit scary at times, I would suggest a visual scripting method like Playmaker or Bolt for Unity or Unreal engines blueprints system if you are having trouble.

Mostly…

So with all this said like any great thing there is a price to pay. The discipline and determination it takes to brainstorm, develop and ship a game can be gargantuan. The consequences of devoting so much time, effort and money can add stress and even weigh on relationships if left unbalanced. It is possible to avoid most of the hardships if you have the patience and plan well. The reality however is if you pursue the indie dev journey you will fail. Not all of the time and less often as you grow your knowledge. You will suffer hardships and hit a brick wall from time to time. It’s up to you to keep at it. Your first game probably won’t make you a millionaire nor the hundredth. If you want in for the money don’t. There are many jobs that are much easer and pay a living wage. It is not an easy path but it is well worth it in my opinion.

Is it for you?

Art is subjective, likewise, game development is too. Even more so indie development. There are musicians, actors, writers, cinematographers, designers and artists of all kinds! Indie developers can touch on all these subjects and more. It is important mention that indie development is not for everyone. It is a wonderful combination of arts and sciences that can create an intoxicating cocktail. I can’t get enough of it.

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Chris

A solo dev working on a 2D game called Sweet Pea

5 Comments

  1. This is a good article, especially for solo devs such as you and I (not that I’ve made any actual games yet). I’ve been at a road block for up to 5 years since graduating from college with a Bachelor’s Degree in Game Design. The first few years consisted of attended local game jams and numerous failed attempts at landing myself a relevant job. The rest consisted of getting my anxiety under control and slowly thinking up of a plan to take a different approach to game development. I have most of the tools you mentioned year. All I need is some self-discipline and a consistent routine.

    1. Hey thank you. It can be a rough road for sure. I have been making games most of my life and have finished only a few. Game jams are a great way to get something done and put yourself out there without too much commitment. Did you end up with anything at the end of the jams? The job part is a bit tricky. working as an indie dev and working as a AA/AAA game dev have cross over but are different sports. I would say try some more jams. Take some time a set goal or two and push for that. Maybe join a small team on a jam. There is a whole bunch that I don’t know but if you need any help let me know. Good luck and thanks again.

      1. During the few jams I attended, I created a couple of prototype games. I developed them a little further, but that’s about as far as I got. That was up to 3 years ago. I stopped because I didn’t know how I could develop my prototypes further into fully functional games, I haven’t fully committed the game development and design process to memory, and my anxiety at the fact that I wasn’t going anywhere with what I had that it boiled to a point that prompted a visit to a psychologist who recommended anti-anxiety pills. Since then, I never touched any of my prototypes nor attended any more game jams (I haven’t heard much from any of the organizers of the local area game jams, either). I spent less time on game development and more time working on the necessary self-discipline while keeping an eye out for useful tutorials to go over later.

        I no longer saw any point in attended game jams and being in a team wouldn’t do much for me. I appreciate you wishing me luck, though. Hopefully, I can start developing games again once I get my self-discipline in order before too long.

        1. Thanks for the fallow up Tim. I understand how hard that path can be. I had to put many arts that I loved to the side to work and pay bills. That left very little time for creative output. I have since found myself in a position that I can try again. I dropped out and that was the right move for me. we all learn in different ways but I felt school would just run in circles and saw many others who did push through to just end up next to me working at a crappy job. I honestly think the key is to find your passion. If yours is in game development then just jump in and focus on having fun. Shameless plug go try my current project Sweet Pea. There is a free demo and if you like I would be happy to gift you a copy. The journey very closely mirrors the emotional roller-coaster of making the game itself. The ups and downs, the feeling of power when you beat a hard level or find a new way to use abilities but also the helplessness of the overwhelming odds stacked against you. Sorry about the run on. What I’m trying to say is it’s hard but if it is for you then it is so worth it. So just open unity or whatever and find your passion.

          1. I don’t find the passion part to be a problem. I just need to address a few issues first before I can take on game development head on: time management, distractions on the Internet and in life, irregular sleep patterns, and focus. Once I do that, I should be able to set up a routine in which I exercise my game development and design skills via various online tutorials and textbooks. I also keep a list of video game ideas and add a few new ones as they come to mind. And I’ve got plenty of inspirational material to work with: various video games, comics, manga, various movies and TV shows on Blu-Ray and DVD, novels, and various nonfiction books. Basically speaking, I have plenty of material to work with and I certainly have a passion for gaming. I just need to set up a workable routine in which I can work on my skills and develop my games with minimal setbacks. I can manage.

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