Jun 13

Indie Game Development – Where to start?

Not since the day of the Sinclair Spectrum back in the early eighties has independent game development been so big. The advent of the smart phone meant that you didn’t need big budgets or smart 3D graphics to get your game to market. A huge user base wanted simple, fun and cheap games and indie game developers rose again to rival even the biggest of the game giants.

I am by no means an expert in indie game development and nor am I a fully trained game programmer with an education in game theory, level mechanics or usability. Each indie dev’s journey is different and the following article will share with you my advice based on my experiences over the past few years.

First off you need to really want to make games for the joy of making games as game development is not a ‘get rich scheme’ and you can’t just knock out a poor Angry Birds clone and expect the millions to come rolling in. Creating a good game takes time and you would be looking at an absolute minimum of three months from concept to testing.

If you decide to take the plunge then start small and come up with a simple game idea and build on it. Mario was originally called ‘Jump Man’ for a reason and his debut was a simple but addictive game and Pac-Man employs quite a clever enemy logic. In order to stop early disappointment you should think about ‘shelving’ your big game idea until your second, third or fourth game in order for you to get a grasp on all the elements of game design and development.

I don’t know how to code?
When it comes to game development you have the choice of learning code or using a drag and drop approach; either way you have options. I am a graphic designer by trade so the drag and drop approach appealed to me first. If this avenue appeals to you then I would strongly recommend starting with either Gamesalad or Stencyl and if you want additional functionality and are willing to put in the leg work then Corona.

Choose Your Weapon
Gamesalad is the more established game creation engine and has a great community within its forums. There are plenty of people willing to help you throughout your journey and you have many people from fresh meat to seasoned professionals to chew the fat with. This engine uses .png graphics and has an easy to use drag and drop functionality with allows you to see exactly what you are creating in real time. There are plenty of free templates to help you muddle through and further premium templates to help you understand the more complicated actions. This is a great starter engine as it uses ‘behaviors’ to tell the graphic what to do such as ‘when the graphic is touched, move 300px left’.

The Stencyl game engine uses similar functions such as scenes, behaviours and physics but is more based around drawing directly into the scene with spritesheets instead of placing the pre-made individual game graphics. The addition of an image editor built in also means this is more of an ‘all-in-one’ solution but if you are happy to use illustrator, photoshop, gimp or inkscape to create your elements then you might find the image editor limiting. Unlike Gamesalad the Stencyl engine uses spritesheets to handle images which is more like the more complex engines.

Moving on to the aforementioned ‘more complex engines’ I would suggest looking at Corona if you fancy trying your hand at learning code. The learning curve is steeper but the reward is much greater as this skill can be transferred as it uses OpenAL, OpenGL, Box2D, and Lua, meaning Corona uses the same industry-standard architecture as the larger companies such as Electronic Arts, and ngmoco. As this engine has greater access to the native phone functions as well as greater social connections this is a powerful starter engine. Many that start on Gamesalad or stencyl move on to corona when their games become more intensive.

Finally, if 2D is one dimension short for your liking then take a look at Unity 3D as this is what the big boys tend to use that work within the third dimension. This option is the most expensive and would require the largest commitment of time and energy. Sadly I could not advise you on this one as it would only be based on research and not actual experience. If you have any experience with program’s such as the free blender, or the more expensive maya 3D.

With any of the above engines, the one thing you need to do is give it time to learn. Make a simple game to learn the basics and build up from there as with each game you create you learn something new.

Over the next few weeks we will cover various topics to do with game design and development and hopefully help a few budding developers realise their dream to create the next big thing.

About the author

Ian Garstang is a budding indie game designer who is a graphic designer by day for the top 100 creative agency Kingsland Linassi. By night he is game designer and graphic peddler to other like minded souls. Ian currently has designed graphics for well over 50 games and has three titles currently on the app store as well as many in development. In order to aid his community Ian runs an online game graphic store called Graphic-Buffet.com

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