Sophie Houlden hasnâ??t spent a penny on tools to make her indie games. Here she explains how itâ??s done.

You can do it

Money is hard to find, especially in an economy like this. But you want to become an indie developer, climb from nothing to be at the point where one day, you can afford to do your own shopping.

But it’s not easy to get going though, with software costs, and the time it takes to make a game all alone when the big companies spend so many man-hours on even their small projects… wait, actually: for indies it is easy to get started.

There is great free software available for making games these days, and you aren’t compromising on quality by going free in most cases either. I’ll drop the names of a few pieces of software to check out so you can look them up online.

Most importantly: all of them are free.

Unity is by far my favourite tool right now. It’s a game engine/IDE that is super easy to learn and use, can publish to a crapload of platforms – including web – and has a ton of nifty features. Sure, it saves its best features for the ‘Pro’ version, but you’ll be hard pushed to find such a friendly piece of software that can do so much for free elsewhere.

If 2D is more your thing, Game Maker is an excellent choice, it gets a lot of dirty looks from some programmers because of it’s ‘drag and drop’ style scripting, but truthfully it’s a great way to learn about the fundamental building blocks of programming, and when you are ready to move on it has its own lesser known ‘Game Maker language’ which is actually pretty good in my opinion.

With either choice you can make great games though, so who cares what the more snotty programmers think?

If you happen to be one of the more snotty programmers, or just want to be a bit more trendy, check out Flixel by Adam Saltsman (Canabalt, Gravity Hook) or FlashPunk by Chevy Ray Johnston (Skullpogo, Beacon). Both are ActionScript libraries you can use to quickly make 2D flash games. If you turn up at a game jam odds are you wont have difficulty finding someone making their game with one of these libraries.

For 3D modeling I highly recommend Blender; yes, the interface is a nightmare, but the new 2.5 version has a brand new front end so if you know other 3D software, migration will be easy, and whilst some people think it doesn’t compare to the big expensive alternatives, those people are wrong.

I use Blender for modeling, unwrapping, skinning, animating, sculpting and baking my textures. In a lot of cases I find it’s actually easier than my old tool of choice (back when I was a pirate) of 3ds Max.

For sculpting, Sculptris by Tomas Pettersson AKA DrPetter is amazing. In fact, DrPetter is a godsend to the indie community; as well as sculptris, his sound effect generator sfxr, music software musagi and painting app CherryBrush are all really brilliant. I have my suspicious the man is capable of cloning himself or some form of time travel to make as many tools that are of such high quality and have so many features.

I think that’s more than enough free software for you to get started making games, but you don’t just grab a paintbrush and get to call yourself a painter. Likewise you don’t get to download this software and call yourself an indie; you have to put in the time – likely lots of it – to master the skills you need to make the games you want.

You need more than software if you want to be an indie dev; you need determination.

Whenever we learn something new it can be a drag, especially if we start out sucking at what we do (and believe me; your first games will really, really suck) so you need to be the kind of person who can put all their energy into something, and throw it away, keeping only what makes you better at your craft.

Keep practicing, and don’t stop. When you feel the strain, when boredom sets in, when Friends reruns come on TV, practice harder.

But do dot fear; you are not alone. Sure you aren’t in a massive team, and sure you owe more rent this month than you earned last year, but you are only independent from a publisher; you are not at all separate from the indie community.

I can’t stress this enough, being an indie can be very, very hard. It can involve all kinds of struggles, some being the hardest of your life. But there are other indies who have been there.

If it’s just a problem with some code you are writing, or depression has you engulfed, in the indie community we look out for each other, we know what each other faces and we all want to help one another.

Remember, it’s easy to get started, all you need is the software, but to keep going you will need the passion and dedication to master your skills and the support and friendship of other indies in the community. A good place to start is

Those are my three ‘must haves’ for being an indie, in reverse order of their importance; free (and good) software, total determination and finally getting involved in the indie community.

So, make games and make friends, and maybe someday even make money.

Go indie today.

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