5 Free Programs to Start Making Your Own Games

Everyone's got to start somewhere, and free is always a good way to go.

More and more people are taking matters into their own hands and making games themselves for personal pleasure. The indie game world has exploded and now is the time to jump in and try your hand at it. I don't necessarily have the funds for Unity Pro, so I'm exploring these free programs to get my feet wet in the development pool.


LÖVE is a 2D game engine or framework that uses the Lua programming language. It's simple and accessible programming-wise and the community is generally helpful and welcoming. LÖVE is licensed under the zlib/libpng license, so you can make a game and share it freely or commercially (moneys!). The forums and wiki are there to help as well as for sharing your own LÖVE creations. Works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

2. Dreemchest 

Dreemchest is also a 2D development engine with Lua that's great for cross-platform games, apps, or even eBooks. It prides itself on speedy rendering, accessibility, and its Adobe Flash user interfaces. Additionally, you can translate your game into any other language easily. Like LÖVE, you can use Dreemchest freely or commercially.  Works on Windows and Mac. 

3. AGen

Similar to the previous programs, AGen is a 2D framework that also uses Lua and provides Lua extensions to make life easier. You can download and create for personal use for free, but if you want to sell your creations there is a one-time fee. Examples of games built with AGen include: 8-Bit Commando, Touch Chess, and Chain. Available for Windows and Mac. 

4. Polycode

Polycode is an opensource framework to build both 2D and 3D games for multiple platforms using either C++ or Lua. Polycode includes font rendering, physics modules, particle systems, sound support, and animation. If you work just in Lua, you can publish to all supported platforms all at once. Polycode isn't finished yet, but once it is I'll be all over it. With its versatility and several features, it's a fabulous value. It also started out as a Kickstarter project, but didn't make its goal (when it totally should have, this program is going to be dynamite!). Keep an eye out on its development on its Tumblr.

5. Unity 3D

Unity 3D is the free version of Unity available for Windows. It can publish for iOS, Android, desktop and Web. The really awesome part about Unity is that you can download tons of assets from the Asset Store for free, including textures, materials, models, scripting, sound clips, and more. When you download this version, you get a 30-day free trial of Unity Pro, which includes even more features. Also, Unity is pretty intuitive and prevalent among numerous indie developers. 

I'm no programmer. At all. So I need something that is relatively easy to learn. Luckily, most of these have tutorials out there as well as forums to ask for help. I'm excited to try these out and hopefully you can find something that suits your inner game developer tastes too. 


Designer, opera singer, gamer, and pug lover.

Published Feb. 26th 2020
  • 4ian
    You may also take a look at Game Develop :)
    It's a free *and* powerful game making software. ;) It does not require any programming knowledge and has several nice features ( Export to HTML5 or native games, physics engine, platformer engine, particle system and pathfinding for native games, powerful events system for creating the game logic... ).

    There are a lot of templates and examples bundled with the software ( For example, here is a very small template showing how to create a platformer game: http://www.compilgames.net/games/WebPlatformer/ and another one dealing with the physics engine: http://www.compilgames.net/games/AngryPeasExample/ ) .

    You can download it on http://www.compilgames.net/

    I'm the main developer of Game Develop, so feel free to ask me for more information! :)
  • Mat Westhorpe
    Featured Columnist
    A great list, nice one. This is potentially relevant to my interests right now, so you've saved me a job. Thanks Miranda. :)
  • MirandaCB
    My pleasure :)
  • RAVaught
    Featured Contributor
    I would also add GameMaker Studio, RPG Maker, CoffeeMUD(for you text fans), Unreal Development Kit(UDK), HeroEngine(For MMO's), and Flash....And for you graphics artists, check out Blenders game engine.
  • JediSange
    Featured Contributor
    These are decent starting points, but things like LOVE and Polycode are really only gaining traction by niche development groups (like certain subreddits, for example). Much more common frameworks might be more worth your while.

    I'd move Unity up to #1 instantly. It's amazing for both the technical and non-technical. Paired with great tutorials and a thriving community, it is easily the best resource out there. Beyond that, I'd say you should be looking at things like MonoGame which was used to make amazing works such as Bastion.

    And for the extremely non-technical I would highly recommend GameMaker Studio. While a lot of people might fault me for that, there have been some fun games to come out of it.
  • MirandaCB
    For sure. It isn't a ranking list but more like moving from solely 2D engines to 3D, ending with Unity. I agree Unity is the best, but this list is just for exploration purposes for people curious. And I may add MonoGame as it's a great option too.
  • Ste Grainer
    Featured Correspondent
    This is a great starting point. I would love to see some more in-depth exploration of each of these options! Why would I choose one over another?
  • MirandaCB
    It would really depend on whether you're interested in making 2D or 3D games (or both), learning programming in Lua and/or C++, and your end goals. Some programs are better if you want to profit off your game without the extra licensing fee (if you're living on ramen like me, lol), for example.

    I really want to cheer on Polycode, but it's unfinished, and it's the one got me super excited about learning a bit of programming for games. So I think it's got a lot of potential once it's finalized.

    Of course there are other free engines, but these appeared relatively accessible and give people a place to explore what makes sense for them. I'll probably add a few more and really dig into them to distinguish what makes each great. :)

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