When you are making a game, you quite quickly discover that there are a large range of different tools that you ned to use. Usually, you’ll need a game engine, an art tool, a modelling tool (for 3D games), a music/sound tool and a planning tool. The exact requirements will vary between different projects, but as a general rule they’ll include these.
Now all of these tools are fairly sophisticated, and they can take years to develop. This means that you can end up agreeing to split revenue with other companies, or having to pay some hefty license fees. Unfortunately, a lot of people can’t afford this or don’t want to pay it so they are unable to use the tools they need to make their game. Well, not anymore. Over the past few years open-source game creation tools have come a very long way, and I am pleased to say that you can now make a full game without ever having to pay for your tools.
It should also be noted that even closed source tools can be free, and they can also be a good choice for your game. I recommend keeping an open mind towards using them for some or all parts of the game development process.
🚂 Game engine
The game engine is where you’ll likely spend most of your time. It massively simplifies the game development process by handling all the complex tasks that usually take large amounts of time and skill to complete. This includes everything from collision detection to rendering and level design. Because of these benefits and many more, most games use an engine these days.
If you want to reap the benefits of a game engine, without having to pay, then open-source engines are probably your best option.
Currently, there are 2 engines that I would rank as being the best in this category, and those are Unreal engine and Godot.
Godot is available under the extremely flexible MIT license and is about as open as it gets. The whole engine is developed and funded by the community, and it is 100% free to use forever.
Unreal is available under its own license, where source code is available. You should note that if you earn more than $1m of revenue you will owe Epic Games 5% of additional revenue generated by your game, unless you agree a custom license with them or publish your game on the Epic Games Store.
If you want more detail on Godot and Unreal, then I recommend reading my article comparing the two in much more detail here: https://www.saluki.tech/2021/06/14/making-a-game-engine-considerations/
🧊 3D Modelling
When you need to make 3D models for your game, there are the expensive choices like Maya or Huidini, but if you opt to use Blender, then you can get a really respectable range of tools and components for free, and as a bonus, you can also find a massive library of content available for free online for learning to use it.
You’ll find that Blender can do pretty much anything you need, and it could even be used to render a trailer for your game or edit a video for your YouTube channel.
A workflow I would recommend to anyone whose just getting started is importing a reference image and then tracing over it to create your model. Also, starting off with a low poly art style is a good way to make your game look good with minimal effort.
🎨 2D Art
When it comes to making 2D art assets, I would recommend using Krita or Inkscape. Both of these tools have a good feature set and they provide you with everything that you need to start making art for your game. If you’re looking to make vector art, then Inkscape is especially good, but Krita is also very capable. If you want to make pixel art, then I would strongly recommend using a tool like Aseprite instead as it has dedicated pixel art tools. The only disadvantage of Aseprite is that if you want to use it for free, you’ll need to compile the source code yourself.
Even if you’re making a 3D game, you’ll find that these tools come in handy if you need to design UI assets, or textures for your models.
🎶 Music and sound
When it comes to designing music and sound, I’m not entirely sure if open-source is currently the best option out there, but it is definitely free and a quick way to get going. I have tried using LMMS, and I’ve found that it has a very decent library of sounds and tools available, and although the UI is quite densely packed, it does work well once you’ve got used to it.
Making music and sound effects is often something people outsource for, because it can be quite time consuming and it does require quite a bit of skill to produce high-quality music or sounds. A platform like Fiverr is an ideal place to find freelancers.
On the topic of open-source sound design, you could try recording sound effects around your house and then edit them in a tool like Audacity to produce content usable in your game. Remember that you don’t have to record the exact thing you want a sound for to make a convincing effect. Crinkling a crisp packet could be enough to make sound effects for a crackling fire or a frying pan.
📓 Planning tools
Because making a game can be so complicated and frequently involves a huge number of different tasks, all of which can take many hours to complete it is often necessary to keep track of your time and manage your commitments. Planning tools come in handy for this, and lots of people default to Trello. Trello is definitely a strong contender for planning, but it isn’t open-source and there are some limits on it. If I want my game to have a public roadmap or an online planning board, I tend to use Codecks, which is a Trello alternative. Codecks isn’t open-source but it has a generous free tier.
MasterPlan is an awesome open-source tool for game development or anything else really. It stores all of your plans in a human-readable git-compatible text file, which makes collaboration possible, just not in real-time. It also comes with a nice looking UI and a fair range of different features. The main limitation of MasterPlan is that if you want it for free, you’ll have to compile it yourself.