Until fairly recently, amateur/home-based game designers were limited when it came to creating their own games. Outside of learning a programming language, there were few ways to put a game together.
That’s changed significantly in recent years, fortunately, and there are a growing number of options available now for the aspiring creator. With so many to choose from, we’ve narrowed things down to seven great ways to make your killer game idea a reality.
GameSalad claims you can create your first game within an hour. That’s because it uses a drag-and-drop style interface for you to slot in various game elements. Rather than getting tied up in code, you can use drop-down menus and check-boxes to select what you want to do next. It’s helpful to have some artistic skill, however, so you can import your own sprites and backgrounds to give your creation a personal touch.
Also, GameSalad seems to work best for making a side scrolling platformer, which demonstrates its limitations somewhat.
The app offers a certain amount of flexibility, but with such a reliance on particular elements and templates, it’s not quite as open as doing things from scratch. As a great introduction to the concept though, it ticks many boxes. The sheer sense of satisfaction that can come from creating something so quickly is a great way to encourage you early on in your development career. You can even play your games instantly on the Mac or PC, meaning you don’t have to worry about lengthy exporting times.
For those who want to create a branching story rather than worrying about graphics and a complex game engine, Inklewriter is ideal as an introduction to various key concepts. Working through your web browser, you can simply start writing your story and piecing together different paths that the player can follow. There’s no need to create a diagram or anything more complex, then going back and forth a few times. Tutorials are always there for you if you falter along the way, plus the site does the hard work for you, pointing out if you’ve missed anything.
Solely text-based means that you won’t get to enjoy the benefits of beautiful visuals, but it’s still quite satisfying to see your story come together so quickly. You can easily share your creation via a link, and for a small price, you can also convert it into an ebook that can be read on a Kindle or sold through Amazon.
Flowlab is a simple game development tool with some very useful advantages. Its biggest advantage is that you don’t need to install it to your PC or Mac-it’s all conducted via a web browser, which is particularly useful for educators who aren’t in a position to install software on multiple systems. As the name suggests, Flowlab is inspired by a flowchart way in which to arrange things. All the graphics are sprite-based, with you slotting things together to form an overall structure.
It’s not as intuitive to learn as something like GameSalad, and could offer more support, as its handful of tutorials only scratch the surface. However, you can dive straight in by simply navigating to a website, meaning it’s worth at least exploring. As with GameSalad, you can immediately see your results, plus you can share them easily via a browser link.
RPG Maker ($19.99 - $79.99)
An expensive but feature-rich solution, RPG Maker is there for those who want to make their own JRPG-style RPG. Much like the genre, you can sink hundreds of hours into the app and only scratch the surface. Scripting and mapping is hugely extensive, along with a large database for inputting various things connected with RPGs. Want to create an outlandish-sounding skill that can take out a talking banana? It’s possible here.
RPG Maker offers few limitations for the budding RPG designer. That means that it’s bordering on intimidating at times, but it’s well worth pursuing. It doesn’t require any programming knowledge, but its results won’t suggest an amateur effort by any means. Extensive tutorials and a great community provide further assistance in making the RPG of your dreams.
Adventure Game Studio (Free)
Adventure Game Studio requires more work and a more intricate understanding of game designing than some other options here, but you’ll be richly rewarded if you persevere. There’s a reason why developers such as Wadjet Eye Games use it for their successful Blackwell series of games.
The editor requires you to be able to learn a basic scripting language, not dissimilar to Java. It’s not as complex as a genuine programming language, but it perfectly bridges the gap, allowing you to apply some complex logic to various scenarios. Graphically, you’re restricted to 2d graphics, akin to the point and click adventure games of old, but with such a strong focus on logic and storytelling, it’s a fair trade off. Its community is great too, with a focus more on helping each other, than trying to make a profit. For those users who want to get more involved in the complexities of game design, Adventure Game Studio is an ideal stepping stone before diving straight into conventional programming.
Unity (Free to $75/month)
Conventional programming, or coding, is the most complex route to take, but also potentially the most rewarding. It’s hard to pinpoint just one language that should be learned, given there’s no real best choice out there. Mathematics fans, though, should appreciate the logic used in C++ and Java, and learning one will give you a great foundation for figuring out the others. It’s far from a weekend project, taking many months to be truly comfortable with, but it’s immensely rewarding.
It also gives you some fantastic transferrable skills. While everyone wants to be a game programmer, it’s sometimes more lucrative to transfer those skills to other business areas, and should make your resume more attractive. For those who want to pursue games design as a serious career choice, this is what you need to learn.