This article originally appeared in issue 246 of PC Gamer UK.
You might have heard that “It's never been easier to make a game.” And it's true. But how do you actually make one? What do you make it 'in'? How much does it cost? How long does it take? Can you sell what you make, and do you owe anyone any royalties? Do you need to learn a programming language?
I don't know, but I do know a lot of indie games. And lots of them are made with tools and suites that claim to be beginner friendly. So for each of the most popular tools, I found an indie developer who had made something cool with it, and asked them what it's like to work with.
I'll also cover how much these tools cost, what your rights are when it comes to selling your work, and what platforms they can make games for. If you've ever been interested in making a game, hopefully this will give you an idea of how long it takes to pick up, which tool will suit you, and where to start.
What is it? An all-inclusive development suite for 2D games. You can either create rules with a drag-and-drop interface, or write code in its scripting language, GML.
Price and licence: The limited version is free, basic version is £30, a version for teams is £60. You can sell the games you make with any of them, no royalties.
Makes games for: PC and Mac. iOS and Android versions are £120 extra each, HTML5 is £60.
Tutorial: TIG forums tutorials
Case Study: Spelunky
Developer: Derek Yu
Get it: for free
How long does Game Maker take to learn?
It shouldn't take more than a couple of weeks to get the hang of Game Maker. It's very intuitive and there is a wealth of tutorials and scripts for it online. On TIGSource Forums we've compiled a list of tutorials that should get an intelligent person up to speed quickly.
What prior knowledge or skills are helpful?
Some programming knowledge and familiarity with C-based languages would be helpful, so that you can take advantage of Game Maker's scripting language GML right off the bat. No serious GM game is made without using it. On top of that, some skill with making pixel art couldn't hurt! In my opinion, Game Maker really benefits generalists who want to do a bit of everything.
What can't you do with it?
Game Maker 8.1 (the version I'm using) is too slow to handle modern graphics and audio. It is strictly for games that look like they came from the '90s or earlier. But I don't know if that's still true of Game Maker Studio, the latest incarnation of GM.
How long did Spelunky take to make?
Spelunky took me about a year of on-and-off work to finish, which is maybe double what I guessed when I started working. But I also didn't anticipate that the game would get as popular as it did.
How much of the development time was enjoyable?
I'd say it was 90% enjoyable and Game Maker played a big part in that. Given how easy it is to use, you can spend most of your time doing art and design! That's the most fun aspect of game creation for me. If you enjoy programming more, you might find Game Maker's limitations more frustrating.
How much did it cost you to develop?
I don't think I spent any money on the original Spelunky, aside from the £12 registration fee for Game Maker (£30 these days).
If you could give your past self one piece of advice before starting to make the game, what would it be?
I'd be afraid of messing with my past self too much, since things turned out well and I attribute part of that to my naiveté. Maybe I'd just send myself a cookie!
Game Maker is one of the easiest tools to use for an absolute beginner, and it's flexible enough to make almost any 2D game you can think of. The only reason not to use it is if you want to make something in 3D, or you're planning an adventure game or J-RPG. There are better options specifically for those.