7 of the Best Free Game Development Programs

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by Sam Yoo

For all of those who are interested in pursuing a career in game development or are simply interested, there are many different very decent options for software that they can try, all available online for free.  They all have strengths and weaknesses and are best suited to different aspects of game design.  

Here, they are ordered by ease of use, from the most accessible to the most advanced.

Hopefully you can find one here that matches your needs.

Sploder

With Sploder you can create retro 8-bit arcade games, platformer flash games, advanced game maker games with our physics puzzle maker, 3d space adventure games, and our classic shooter games. 

Sploder is a web-based game creation tool based on Flash.  It is comprised of five specialized game creators for different types of games as well as a graphics editor.  It has a drag-and-drop interface for ease of use, making it a very accessible tool for beginners.  

Sploder is completely free, only requiring that you create a free Sploder account so that you can save your games.

GameMaker: Studio

Studio caters to entry-level novices and seasoned game development professionals equally, allowing them to create cross-platform games in record time and at a fraction of the cost of conventional tools!

YoYo Games presents GameMaker, available on Windows and Mac OS X.  This software enables users to create intricate 2D games such as platformers, maze games, or side scrolling shooters without any prior programming knowledge.  You can either utilize GameMaker's drag-and-drop interface or try GameMaker's built-in scripting language, GML.

There is a very supportive online community that provides resources such as tutorials that can help you get started.

GameMaker comes in three different editions:  Standard (Free), Professional ($89.99), and Master ($559.99).

Construct 2

Construct 2 is a powerful ground breaking HTML5 game creator designed specifically for 2D games. It allows anyone to build games — no coding required!

Scirra's Construct 2 is akin to a prep-course for real programming languages.  It is simple but is organized in such a way that you still learn basic programming concepts from its design.

It offers a variety of features that make it a powerful program that also remains very easy for beginners such as:

  • The user is able to select possible conditions and actions from a pre-existing list, easily arranging them into 'event sheets'.
  • There is also a list of behaviors (function packages) that can be assigned to objects and reused however many times as needed.  
  • Users also can take advantage of the instant preview option which allows them to bypass the need for compiling everything first.  They can instantly see and test their in-progress game in a browser window.  
  • Construct 2 also supports variety of platforms, removing the need for multiple codebases.

The Scirra website also includes an extensive database of tutorials that explain their program's various features.

Construct 2 comes in three different editions:  Free, Personal ($129.99), and Business ($429.99).

Stencyl

Stencyl isn't your average game creation software; it's a gorgeous, intuitive toolset that accelerates your workflow and then gets out of the way. We take care of the essentials, so you can focus on what's important - making your game yours. 

Described as a 'Game Studio in a Box', Stencyl boasts a streamlined drag-and-drop interface reminiscent to MIT's Scratch project.  Additionally, more advanced users can write their own code and apply it to the software in order to tap into more advanced features.

Stencyl comes with a rich graphics editor, and also has extensive platform support such as: 

  • iOS (iPhone/iPad)
  • Android
  • Flash
  • Windows
  • Mac
  • Linux

There is also a 30 minute long crash course that guides you through all of Stencyl's features.

Flixel

Flixel is an open source game-making library that is completely free for personal or commercial use. Written entirely in Actionscript 3, and designed to be used with free development tools, Flixel is easy to learn, extend and customize.

Adam Saltsman (also referred to as Adam Atomic) brings us Flixel, a free Flash action script library for game design.  

The open-source nature of this software means there is a bit of a learning curve.  C-style programming knowledge is recommended, but not necessary. 

Flixel lists a variety of features, each accompanied by a demo to illustrate how to use them:

  • Multiple camera options - You can replace or add different camera views to certain visual effects such as split screen, 'a picture in a picture', or minimaps.
  • Pathfinding that instantly maps out a function path for you that can be applied to any object (useful for moving platforms, elevators, etc).  Additionally, you can specify the speed and direction of the path.
  • Flixel uses a tilemap to construct environments, with built in algorithms that will allow you to easily fill in wall and floor tiles.
  • The replay option records key and mouse input sequences over a set time frame, recording exactly what happened and making the debugging process much easier.
  • Flixel also comes with a variety of special effects, 'particles' and 'particle emitters' that can be manipulated and combined to achieve various desired behaviors.

There is also a well established coding community built around Flixel.

Flixel is completely free, for personal and commercial use.

Unreal Engine 4

Unreal Engine 4 is a complete suite of game development tools made by game developers, for game developers. From 2D mobile games to console blockbusters and VR, Unreal Engine 4 gives you everything you need to start, ship, grow and stand out from the crowd.

Unreal Engine technology powers hundreds of games as well as real-time 3D films, training simulations, visualizations and more. 

Epic Games' Unreal Engine was designed originally to create first person shooter games, however it can be used for other genres as well.

This is not for beginners.  The engine is coded in C++ and game behavior is scripted with Unreal’s version of JavaScript: UnrealScript.  

Features include:

  • A visual effects editor that provides the tools needed to create detailed fire, smoke, snow, dust, dirt, rubble and more.
  • A persona animation toolset that can be used to edit skeletons, skeletal meshes and sockets, and animation blueprints.
  • Director-level control over cut scenes, dynamic gameplay sequences and movies.
  • A landscape system that enables you to customize huge, outdoor worlds using the foliage tool that can quickly paint or erase all sorts of terrain components.
  • Filmic effects for post-processing like lens flares, depth of field, color grading, to adjust the look and feel of scenes.
  • Full source code access with a code view that allows you to browse C++ functions directly on characters and objects.
  • A simulation mode that lets you run game logic in the editor viewport, making the debugging process that much faster.
  • An artificial intelligence system that allows AI-controlled characters to make smarter movements.

And so many other extensive functions for advanced game development.  

While the Unreal Engine is free to use, if you want to publish and sell games that you have designed using the software, you must pay fees and royalties to Epic Games.

Unity

Unity is a flexible and powerful development platform for creating multiplatform 3D and 2D games and interactive experiences.  It's a complete ecosystem for anyone who aims to build a business on creating high-end content.

Unity is possibly the best software for developing 3D games.  It boasts industry leading multi-platform support ( a current total of 22, including PS4, Xbox One, Oculus Rift), a feature-rich and highly flexible editor, and an asset store where you can choose from over 1200 free and paid extensions.

Even without any supplementary licenses, you are given instant access to:

Animation

  • Retargetable animations
  • Full control of animation weights at runtime
  • Event calling from within the animation playback
  • Sophisticated State Machine hierarchies and transitions
  • Blend shapes for facial animations

Graphics

  • Enlighten-powered Real-time Global Illumination
  • Physically-based shading
  • Reflection probes
  • Curve and gradient-driven modular particle system
  • Intuitive UI tools

Optimization

  • Advanced memory profiling
  • Umbra-powered occlusion culling
  • Asset bundling
  • Level of detail support
  • Build size stripping
  • Multi-threaded job system

Audio

  • Real-time mixing and mastering
  • Hierarchies of mixers, snapshots and predefined effects

2D and 3D physics

  • Box2D with a comprehensive range of effectors, joints and colliders

Unity comes in two editions:  Personal (Free), and Professional (from $75/month).

Good luck!

Whether you want to create games for the pure fun of it or if you want to do it professionally, there are countless resources for you to take advantage of and you are not alone.  Have at it and have fun!

Published Jul. 4th 2015

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