Indie devs love their tools!
This week I became an indie game developer, and I started working on my first game. This article is about the tools I use, and why, hopefully you can discover something new. There are lots of tools to choose from for indie devs, and sometimes, there is no best choice. The information below is just my opinion so take it with a pinch of salt.
Knowing the strengths and limitations of the game engine you are using is key, especially before you decide to try and master it. There are many game engines nowadays, and picking one up can be difficult for indie devs. Unreal and Unity are the most common maybe, but there are smaller ones such as Godot that are quite capable as well! They all offer different things and have their own workflows, but you’ll get used to them if you try.
My pick was Unity, not because it is the best, but because I can find most of the things I want online, due to the big community it has, and because I used it a little before, which makes it faster to pick up again. Not that Unity is hard to pick up, because it is actually easier than some other game engines I have tried before. I really like where Unity is going with their current feature releases and road-map. I don’t think there is a best game engine for everybody, as everyone have different needs and skills which is more like a per-game basis.
Choosing a 3D modeling tool was easy for me. I went with Blender, again, not because it was the best, but because I have used it a little before, it is free and it is very powerful. The alternatives are mostly very expensive tools which are used by AAA studios, and out of the budget for indie devs. I think Blender can do most of what the other big expensive tools can do, and the new features coming out seem to be amazing too! Have you heard about or seen EEVEE? It is a new real-time rendering technique for Blender, which gives instant rendering like game-engines do. This saves a lot of time when tweaking since you don’t have to wait every time!
Of course, modeling is just a part of Blender, it can also do texturing, rigging, and animation. The whole package. It is always possible to use certain specialized external tools for parts of the workflow, but they could cost money.
Another great and free modeling tool is Magica Voxel, but this is only for voxel art. It is easy to pick up and there’s lots of tutorials on YouTube, just like Blender. I think indie devs like voxels, like they love pixel art.
Sound and music brings out the immersiveness in games. You can always just find sounds readily made, but sometimes you might need to tweak a little, or it sounds out of shape for your situation. Audacity is a great free tool to modify sounds, cut, clear , fade them out, and more. I see lots of indie devs not focusing on sound, which will greatly reduce the quality of the game.
Sometimes you may also need to create your own music tracks. LMMS and GarageBand for Mac are free and seems promising, but I prefer FL Studio, which is not free.
Pixel art is very common for indie devs, it is easier, but hard to master. My favourite tool for pixel art creation is Marmoset Hexels which I have bought once on a Steam sale. This tool is not free, but it is great! It is also awesome for creating isometric art, as it adjusts the grid to make it easier for you to work with and not blow your mind. I’m not sure about free alternatives, as Hexels was really cheap when I bought it and I never needed to use any other free tools for this.
Illustration & Editing
Sometimes you might need to create art for your game, or modify textures. Maybe your game even depends on vector art. There is GIMP, which is a free tool, but I use Affinity Designer for vector art and Affinity Photo for editing. Affinity products are not free, but they are much cheaper than the big boys in the industry. Unlike Adobe products, Affinity has a one-time fee, and they do most of what you’ll need from Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. It takes a little while to learn Affinity products after being used to Adobe products, but with a powerful will you’ll manage through it. Learning new shortcuts and ways to do what you already know how to do in a different tool can be tedious, but worth it, for your bank.
Video Recording & Editing
Screen recording is a big part of my game dev workflow as I need to showcase my progress online, and so should other indie devs to market their games. OBS is a great and free screen recorder, and I like to use it along with ezgif.com to convert videos to GIFs. For video editing, I use Sony Vegas, which I am not really fond of, but I had bought it from Humble Bundle some months ago for a very good price, so I never bothered to buy anything else. I have tried free alternatives before, but I never really liked them. I think the best one would be Adobe Premier Pro, but as it is an Adobe product, will break your bank with monthly fees.
We indie devs get lots of ideas, and we need to write them somewhere, fast, or we forget them. I use Google Keep to write my new ideas, you can draw, attach links, and it’s accessible on both mobile and desktop.
However, when I start a project, I use Asana, a free (has premium too) tool that makes it easy to use, to track tasks, and is great for collaborating with other people! Did I mention that the UI is beautiful?