When I say “videogame,” chances are these games aren’t what you think of. They don’t have sleek graphics or lots of “features.” You can’t preorder them from GameStop. And yet, believe it or not, these games and hundreds like them are the most (first?) important thing to come out of the murky lagoon that is “videogame culture.”
I want you to make a videogame. Seriously. Hear me out. You don’t need to know how to code; you don’t even need to care about videogames.
To make a blockbuster videogame, it takes teams of hundreds and budgets of tens of millions. With so much at stake, it’s impossible for mainstream games to experiment, make weird shit, or tell personal stories. Fortunately, with the help of increasingly accessible methods of creation and distribution, new artists are cropping up that don’t have such a narrow view of games.
The best games today are made by individuals or small groups. They’ve got budgets that can be counted in spare afternoons and use coffee shop WiFi. The best games of 2016 will be made by people who don’t know or care about videogames today. There’s a growing interest in weird, personal games, or just games that cover a broader range of emotions than “gruff space marine dude shooting vaguely middle-eastern alien zombies.” And with good reason. Videogames have enormous potential as an art form, capable of just as deep and complex experiences as film, literature, or any other medium.
Take Porpentine’s 2014 game Skulljhabit for example (you can play it here for free, it’s fairly short). Made with the free (and code-free) interactive fiction tool Twine, Skulljhabit uses a limited palette of interaction and tightly-written passages to weave together a surprisingly moving experience. Through understated descriptions and deft humor, Porpentine guides the player through life in the surreal and distant skull village one day at a time. It’s a game that walks effortlessly between themes of routine, existentialism, and depression, and tackles them just as well as a work in any medium.
The growing alternative games movement is centered around the idea that videogame creation should be open to anyone. New platforms like itch.io (a free and open website that lets you sell your game at any price) and curation platforms like forest ambassador (“games for people who don’t play games”) are starting to make that idea a reality.
So I wasn’t kidding—I want you to make a videogame. I think anyone interested in art of any kind should try it. And in the year 2015, you can do it even without a single day’s worth of programming or art experience. Here are a few free tools that make it possible:
Twine is an open source tool for creating hypertext games (think a cross between a webpage and a choose-your-own-adventure book). You can add sounds, images, or HTML, but most Twine games are text only. The best part? No programming required. If you can read this sentence, you can make a game in Twine.
Stencyl is a free tool for 2D game creation. It uses a drag-and-drop system for making game logic that’s quick to pick up and fairly versatile. You don’t need to know how to program to make a game with Stencyl, but you’ll want to run through this tutorial to learn the basics of the software, as it can be a bit quirky.
Construct 2 is another tool for 2D game creation, free for noncommercial use. It uses a simple scripting system that’s about as in-depth as you can get without doing any code. Expect to spend some time learning how to use the software.
Game Maker is another excellent amateur-level tool for making 2D games. If you’re comfortable learning a bit of code, this is one of the best options. There are a lot of features left out of the free version, but you can still use it to make a finished game. Game Maker has been around for a while, which means there’s a well-established and very helpful community around it.
Finally, Unity3D is the best option, free or otherwise, for making a 3D game. It’s also got some great 2D tools. If you can program, you should definitely learn the basics of Unity; it’s by far the most versatile game creation out there for artists. You’ll either need some previous code knowledge or a fair amount of patience.
Okay, so you’ve got the tools. But where to start? I’ll leave you with a bit of advice for the beginner game developer. First, your game does NOT have to be good, just interesting. Experiment. Mess around. Don’t worry too much about how good it is.
Second, tell a personal story. Or a weird, abstract one. Or any story you want!
Third, if someone tells you that your game “isn’t a real videogame,” you’re doing it right.
Finally, AS GANDHI, SAID B THE GAMES YOU WISH TO SEE IN THE WRLD.