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This content is taken from the UAL Creative Computing Institute & Institute of Coding's online course, Introduction to Indie Games. Join the course to learn more.

Routes into indie games

Up until this point, you have mainly been getting to grips with the concepts underpinning indie games in general. Let’s take a more practical approach now and focus on how you might be able to get started.

The first thing you need to do is a quick audit of your own existing skills: what do you already enjoy doing that could be relevant to a game project? As adults, we’re often discouraged from trying new things simply to see if we enjoy them: this is an unhelpful mindset and one you should discard immediately! You often can’t be sure what will click with you until you try it.

How do I get started?

Here’s a very quick guide to trying out some of the different disciplines we discussed earlier. One quick note before you start: there is a huge wealth of free information out there online, particularly on YouTube, pertaining to every creative discipline. Learning these individual skills is more about setting aside time to do it and being persistent than it is about finding the perfect resources or tools. We’ll largely explore free or low-cost entry points here: many larger-scale industry standard tools have student or educational licenses to help get you going.

Atomic Habits by James Clear is a useful discussion of how to form new habits that can build into long-term practise.

Game design

If you enjoy devising systems, thinking about how you would modify existing games to improve them or love thinking about the details of how a player experiences a game, then you could think about focussing on game design.

It’s possible to design great games without the aid of a computer at all: prototyping games on paper using dice, playing cards, board game pieces and anything else you can think of is a perfectly valid way to start that is still used by many experienced designers.

If you do want to go digital, simple game making tools like Twine, bitsy and Stencyl, or more scalable applications like and GameMaker can be good starting points. There’s also nothing wrong with jumping straight into an engine like Unity or Unreal, but it pays dividends to carefully follow some basic tutorials and take things slowly early on.

Programming

The best route to being in full control of your own game development project is to learn coding yourself. You don’t need to have a particular set of built-in aptitudes or inclinations to become a programmer: however, an ability to think through problems logically and confidence when grasping new concepts will be a huge help.

Learning game programming is largely a function of defining game-related coding tasks and then working out how to execute them: it doesn’t require a comprehensive knowledge of a programming language or any formal training to get started.

The most direct route to learning game programming is to start working in an existing game engine (we’ve given examples in the Game Design section above) and work through its tutorials until you’re happy to embark on your first project. Learning to use documentation and explore concepts as they come up is a vital skill for all programmers, and this will likely be your main route early on. Common languages are C# and C++, but Javascript and other still make an appearance.

3D art and animation

You could consider tackling 3D game art yourself if you are visually inclined: art work is time consuming and requires a high level of attention to detail. If you are interested in the details of motion and how characters express emotion through movement, then animation could be the place to start.

Try a free 3D package like Blender, or if you’re looking for a simpler place to start then consider Sketchup or AssetForge. The game engine Unity now ships with Probuilder, which is highly flexible and can allow you to create assets that are usable straight away.

There are also more unconventional 3D tools like MagicaVoxel which could be worth exploring.

Take a look around to find a tool that’s right for you - don’t push yourself to make elaborate work straight away - set the bar low and stick with it to keep improving.

2D art

If you have some traditional art or drawing experience, then 2D art could be a natural fit. Even if you’ve never attempted art before, it can be worth looking into 2D work as a starting point.

Photoshop is still considered to be an essential building block by most professional 2D artists, but GIMP, a free and open-source image editor is also extremely powerful (though perhaps a little harder to learn).

If you’re interested in pixel art, then there are a huge variety of pixel-specific tools available: some popular choices are Aseprite, Graphics Gale and Pro Motion NG but in reality, high-quality pixel art can be created in virtually any graphics editor.

Developing traditional drawing skills can also be an excellent way of starting - the principles you learn there will be a significant help in the long run.

Audio and music

If you are interested in sound and want to try out game audio for yourself, you don’t need to jump straight into using complex or intimidating tools.

For very basic sound editing, Audacity is a great free tool which can get you started. From there, you may want to look into a DAW (digital audio workstation) like Tracktion Waveform Free: this will enable you to use third-party plugins to process audio.

Share your thoughts:

  • How are you feeling about entering the indie games world?
  • Do you already have an idea of an area you would like to explore further?
  • How might you start to do this?

Share your thoughts in the comments section. It’s also a great way to get inspiration and exchange ideas with other learners.

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Indie Games

UAL Creative Computing Institute