There’s certainly no shortage of armchair criticism for game developers on the Internet. Many players find comfort in their ability to rip apart a piece of work someone else has created. And why not? After all, as the consumers of their entertainment, we’re the experts on what works in a game and what doesn’t. But before you get ready to write another scathing review on that game which really just got under your skin, consider this: making a game is hard. It involves an insane amount of dedication and commitment to pull off any major entertainment product, and video games are no exception.
So let’s give this a positive spin. With the wonders of the Internet at our disposal, distribution of game development tools–particularly ones for amateurs with a hankering to enter the business–has become as simple as accessing a website and downloading the software to use. Many of the programs I’ll be outlining here offer a free trial, so what are you waiting for? You could be the future of the industry and not even know it!
1. Construct 2
Scirra is a teensy-tiny London startup whose few employees crafted this outstanding piece of development software. Featuring a dynamic event-based system that teaches basic programming skills without the need to learn code, Construct 2 is a perfect place to start 2D game development even if you don’t know the first thing about game creation. Extensive, interactive tutorials and a super-helpful community will get you started on your first project in no time at all. Better yet, the ever-growing library of plugins and supported platforms (there’s now support for Wii U development!) mean you can really expand your horizons no matter how small you start.
A world of 2D game creation is just around the corner with the huge library of tools by Paris-based developer Clickteam. The company’s offerings cater to a wide variety of users, from the most basic package (kid-friendly The Games Factory 2) to the most complex (the newly-released Clickteam Fusion 2.5). Much like Construct 2, Clickteam’s products use a drag-and-drop, object-oriented environment without the need for code. They also offer multiple export modules, including Flash and iOS, to help you show off your work.
Offering a third 2D drag-and-drop-based gateway to the world of game development is Stencyl, which allows both coding and coding-free programming options. Lauded by educators, this particular piece of software can be a wonderful option if you’d like to move on to coding within the same development environment. It also offers iOS, Android, and HTML5 export modules, so making your own apps and games is just a click away once you’ve gotten the hang of things. Of particular note is the game’s use of the MIT Scratch project as inspiration, meaning its learning curve is low due to an intuitive “building block” event system.
4. Game Maker
YoYo Games’ Game Maker Studio has been around as a resource for amateur game development for a long time, and it remains a tried-and-true option for those who wish to jump right in to coding. The software features its own dedicated programming language, GML, which allows you to skip a lot of the trickier native language elements and get your game moving! Because it’s been around for quite a while, Game Maker also features highly responsive support and a huge user base that can assist you in all your programming woes. Coding doesn’t get much easier than this, so it’s a good place to start if you want a realistic picture of how code begets functional (or not-so-functional) software.
Offering live training, expansive tutorials and documentation, and a dedicated group of fellow developers onboard to answer your questions, Unity Technologies’ 3D game development environment is easily the most complex entry point on this list. Still, with complexity comes a huge amount of flexibility, and Unity3D does not disappoint in that department. The website’s gallery section includes a bountiful collection of software powered by the Unity engine, the quality of which may leave you stunned. While not for the easily intimidated, using Unity3D is an immensely rewarding experience if you can put the time in.
With so much useful software available, the time for complaining is over. A legendary title could be swimming in your brain right now, so there’s no time like the present to get the future of games started. A word of advice to get you extra excited: each of the websites linked above offers a gallery or arcade showcasing software created by the respective program. I would highly recommend checking these out, as many of them are free and totally awesome ways to get inspired. Now go–the industry needs you!