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The Poor Game Developer Tool Kit
by Jamie Aisthorpe on 04/27/14 11:57:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Here is something that I posted on my portfolio for other game developers to help in the game development process. Creating games can be a costly business as commercial indy title can cost tens to hundreds of thousands dollars to build. A portion of this funding is set to software licences. Starting out, these software can be very expensive for first time developers interested individuals that are interested in creating games. Pirating these programs can seem an option to learn to use the software and experience game development, however to develop with these software commercially will lead to hefty law suits and devastation.

As someone staring in the industry and running business, I couldn't afford to use the industry standard software. So I been searching and using freely available software in my development process and have compiled a list of freely available software that allows developers to create games commercially on windows and mac.

Unity3D : Game Engine 

The game engine I use for most of my projects is Unity. The software is freely available for commercial use with the free version and the only stipulation is that if the company/individual grosses 100,000 dollars, they pay for the full version. Unity's structure and design allows the users to create experiences rapidly. It uses JavaScript and C# for programming, however it is largely uses these languages to code Unity's API which has a very descriptive online resource, a large supportive community and lots oftutorials. Also the asset store has free plugins that can aid in the process. Unity also allows for cross platform development, opening access to iOS and Android development.

OpenOffice : Documentation

For any documentation either development or business related. I use OpenOffice. It is an open source office software suite that is a freely available to use commercially. The software included are a word processor “Writer”, a spreadsheet editor “Calc”. Presentation software “Impress”, a drawing program “Draw” and some other helpful software. Its interface is similar to the Microsoft suite and is able to export files to Microsoft documents making it very easy to learn.

GNUCash : Accounting

GNUCash is a freely available accounting software that helps manage funds for a project. Built for small business accounting, the system can easily be modified and customized to manage business and project cash flow, profits and losses and expenses. It also can be used on android phones so the accounts can be managed on the go.

Audacity : Sound Effects

Audacity is free, open source, cross-platform software for recording and editing sounds. This is a simple program that makes it easy to manipulate and edit a variety of different sound files. You can also use it with a microphone to record and manipulate your own sounds. If you are downloading sound files, check their licences and obtain them legally. is a good place to find creative commons 0 sound files for your projects.

Sunvox : Music

Sunvox is a digital music workspace that has a tracker interface with modular synthesizers. This interface was interesting at first however it became very intuitive and managed to create a nice sounding piece within a few minutes. Interestingly the use of the tracker and modular synths works very well together and can create virtual instruments for your music. Also if you worried that it wont work on your computer, don't worry the creator has exported it to a variety of different devices.

Blender : 3D Animation

Blender is a 3D animation suite which is created to support the full animation pipeline. Anything that needs to be 3D can be created in Blender. The design of it was to use quick keys to allow for a speedy modelling process which are beneficial to learn. The controls differ from other modelling programs however these can be customized to accommodate the user. Also blender contains a powerful video editing interface for creating any video media.

Pencil2D : 2D Animation

When working with 2d animations, There is very few animation software that is freely available. However I chosen Pencil2D for this list as it a basic application however it is very intuitive for it simplicity. Pencil2D is an open source application that allows the user to create traditional animation with bitmap and vector animations. The software works well with tablets compared to other software. It is still in very early stages of development but it has a great potential to grow.

GIMP : Image Manipulation

The GNU Image Manipulation Program allows users to edit and create images or paintings or brushes or use other source images. At first its interface is confusing at first however it is fully customizable to allow you to create your own interface to accommodate your needs. It work very well and most of the functionality is close to photoshop however it is still easy to learn. A good place to get images as signing up for a free account allows you access to free to use textures and photographs.

Inkscape : Vector Manipulation

Inkscape is a vector graphics editor that allow the user to manipulate and create .svg and other vector file formats. Useful for creating clean art for games, the interface is intuitive for creating vector art. It also contains a font editor, which is handy for creating icon fonts for game buttons.

I hope this list was helpful and has aided you in your development process and that it helps your game to become successful. When you do get successful with free applications, remember to help out these people that make these programs. Donate to their cause because without their dedication, there are no freely available programs.

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Matt Hughson
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Nice list! Hadn't heard of Pencil 2D before. Going to check it out!

Alan Barton
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That's a very good list. Thanks!

I've not heard of GNUCash, Sunvox & Pencil2D. I will check them out as I need an Accounting program and another music editor would be useful.

I would add these (also free) tools to your list:

Paint.NET -
Easiler to use 2D painting and ok for simple work and much better than the built in Windows Paint.

Programmer's Notepad -
Text editor and vastly better than Windows notpad.

AstroGrep -
File searching, which gives back (on Windows 7) the ability to search inside files, as well as much better searching for files.

WinMerge -
Very good file comparing. Ideal for finding changes in your source code between different versions. Its very useful.

OpenMPT -
The best sound tracker style editor I've ever seen.

... I think the biggest gap in not covered tools is video editing software. I'm still looking for a solution there?. Does anyone have any ideas?

Kevin Fishburne
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Kdenlive is decent if you use Linux. Not sure what's available for Windows or OSX.

Maurício Gomes
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For video editing there is Cinelerra

I've heard that some PRO people prefer it rather than Adobe stuff, but I never tried myself.

Florian Putz
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@Game Engine:

Until now (We are also using unity in our company), unity used to be a real bargain. But I think it's worth mentioning that last month the situation changed quite a bit. Unreal Engine 4 is now available for 19.90$ per month and Cry Engine 3 at an even lower price tag, just 9.90$ per month. AFIAK one can cancel the subscription at any time. I would consider that price tag as "almost free". It's a few beer at a pub or two mc meals a month - I think even someone living off parents pocket money could afford that. Nontheless of course, there is still the free version of unity (although it offers much less).

Kelley Hecker
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UE4 does take 5% of all revenues from your game, which, while not much compared to the fees from distribution channels, is still something to factor into the long-term cost.

We have the Pro version of Unity, but I've found the free version to be more than sufficient in most cases. Most of the Pro features are luxuries rather than necessities. But I do mostly develop for mobile, so that may be one factor. And if you make more than $100,000 a year, you have to use Pro. But then you're probably not a "poor game developer."

But it's great that there are now so many free or low-cost commercial-grade engines available to indie developers. In the end, I'd say go with the engine you think will work best for your project and has the features you want.

Greg Scheel
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Having started my latest project in Unity, I switched to UE4, and found the toolset vastly easier to use. As well, the UE4 fees are for a source code license, and the codebase is so clean and well commented, I feel smarter and become a better programmer everytime I look at it.

The 5% is much of nothing, a credit card company will take 1.2%-2.5% right off the top, and Kickstarter is also 5% if I do recall. Taxes, and the cost of 'industry standard' software licensing become a bigger issue at that point.

If you are already pretty far along in a given engine, then switching does not make much sense, but if your project has only barely begun, before much code is written and while assets are still being developed, then taking a close look at the alternatives can potentially save a lot of time and result in a much better product.

Mus Cetiner
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Nice list, I have never come across Pencil2d and it is something I will look into.
There is a place I have used to find alternative software to well known commercial software. It is a big list of alternative software to choose from.


Aficionado VMAc
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Awesome list.....Thanks

E Zachary Knight
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On the game engine front, there are so many free and open source engines available that it is hard to list only one. I am currently using Haxe with OpenFL. This is a very strong cross platform engine that exports to Flash, HTML5, Linux, Mac, Windows, Android and iPhone. It is definitely worth checking out.

I also use a very awesome 2D game engine called HaxeFlixel for my projects:

For sounds, there is also sfxr :

For music there is lmms :

David Rico
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I agree that Unity is not the best value now that UE4 is out. Any new gamedevs should really be trying out UE4 since what you get for 20 dollars is ridiculous.

Or you can make flappy bird clones with Unity Free.

Greg Scheel
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You get a free flappy clone with UE4, saving you a day of repetition :P It comes with blueprints and assets, and is a good example of how to do sidescroller games.

And, 'Tappy Chicken' deployed to my phone just fine, UE4 comes with a set of Nvidia tools that need to be installed for android development.

John Paduch
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Gotta admit, I don't understand the point of trying to get multiple open-source solutions to work for you when you can drop $20/mo to get access to the full version of UE4. That deal blows everything else out of the water, based on the amount of resources and sheer power of the engine, alone.

Greg Scheel
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UE4 is based on FBX and Maya, and Maya is way crazy expensive, and is reported to have bugs and crash. Blender appears to be a good, affordable substitute. For that matter, the rest of the software you need to run a business is also crazy expensive, and use of open-source alternative saves precious cash for more important things, like food.

Currently, UE4 is the only pro-commercial software in my toolchain.

Pallav Nawani
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Is it possible to import Blender Meshes in UE4, or do we have to export to something like COLLADA first?

Greg Scheel
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UE4, unfortunately, is based on Maya input, therefore it is designed to use FBX format. Hopefully, given source code, love, and time, we can mod UE4 to use .blend.

"Use the Source, Luke, Use the Source"

May the Source be with you.

Sergio Hidalgo
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I'd also suggest the following:

Notepad++: Great lightweight text editor with many features that will make your life easier if you're a programmer, including syntax coloring, tabs, macros, plugins...

LibreOffice: This is a great alternative over OpenOffice

Paint.NET: Alredy mentioned, for those times when you need something more than MS Paint, but not quite Photoshop or Gimp

Python: Ok, this isn't really a tool, but it's very handy to have around. You can use it to automate many tasks and processes, including more advanced things like texture generation / manipulation, thanks to the vast amount of freely available packages.

Jan-Willem van den Broek
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Notepad++ is the second thing I install on any computer (after a proper browser). It's snappy, handles very large files, unix/windows line ends, regexes, ... It'll make your live easier, even if you only use it to look at log files.

Ken Gratz
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Good list. I've found LibreOffice to be a more competent free office suite, as it seems to preserve formatting better than OpenOffice, especially if using images and going to/from doc/docx.

Veerdhawal Khanvilkar
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I recently started using LibreOffice in my work and it quite good for designing purposes. Also down the line I think it might even help me in designing levels for my game. I was looking for a free alternative for Visio and after searching and trying various free tools, LibreOffice Draw was better of the lot and much closer to Visio.

marcus carneiro
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I'm not an animator, but for 2D Animation there is also Synfig Studio (Open Source, Win/OSX/Linux)

GIMP is fine for image manipulation, but Krita is much better for painting. David Revoy have some good tutorials on Krita.

About Unity, there is also value on the asset store. If you are in a short budget, you also may have a small team, so some assets can cut you months of work. Of course Epic already said that Unreal 4 will have an asset store.

David Lejeune
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Another neat thing about Blender is that it has the built in game engine. It's not fantastic as an engine, and there's some weirdness as far as the license since technically a BGE game is a derivative of Blender itself, so needs to be licensed under GPL, too. But if you're just doing some rapid prototyping it's pretty flexible and arguably faster than having to swap between Blender and Unity.

Bram Stolk
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Wings3D is my 3D modeling software of choice.
Its natural approach to vertex/edge/face manipulations make it better than any commercial alternative imho.

Veerdhawal Khanvilkar
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TileEd is a very good level editor for 2D games and can be used to not only create the level art but also for implementation of gameplay design by the level designer. The XML export feature is very handy and with a little work from the programmer, a data driven approach to designing levels is possible.

Adam O'Donoghue
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For free 2D animation software I find 'Synfig' to be an interesting program.

The main premise of 'Synfig' is the elimination of the 'tweening' process which can be a fiddly pain when doing complex animations with multiple effects and layers. Basically you draw an image, then duplicate it, modify the duplicate and assigned it as a new key frame and then the program will calculate how to change image A to image B over the specified time interval. And if something goes awry, you just go to that point in time, mark it as a new key-frame, and fix the error. This is handy because all the key-frames in Synfig align with actual animation events, which I find helpful for planning and editing.

So from a work point of view Synfig can allow for very rapid animation once you get familiar with it; the user interface does take a while to get use to, and the program does some things that rather unusual to traditional graphic programs (e.g. separation of shape 'outlines' from shape 'fill'). But if one can get past these the program is worth a look at

Additionally, the program works really well with Ink-Scape files.

Vincent Van Diermen
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I like to add PhotoFiltre 7 (or 6, if you don't like layering) as a good and free image editor. As QA I use this program for easily and professionally editing of screen captures. Works better imo in my line of work then Paint, Gimp or Photoshop.

Randy Tan
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For 2D animated character sprites, I've used Spriter ( It's not open source, but it has a feature-packed free version as well as a paid pro version.

Emir Can
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"Pirating these programs can seem an option to learn to use the software and experience game development, however to develop with these software commercially will lead to hefty law suits and devastation"
How's that? The licence owner's won't find out?! So I see no reason why there would be a lawsuit.
Licence providers won't know if your 3D Models were made with Blender or with a pirated commercial software when you publish a game. Nor will they know what engine you used. And even if they would, they can't know whether you own a licence or pirated it.

Stephen Horn
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Any file format that your didn't write, and allows custom extensions, can be used by the software maker to stow metadata about your license, if you have one.

Even if they don't, when someone on a social media outlet asks "How did you do that?" you have to refuse to respond, or to lie. If you tell the truth, and someone from a legal team sees it, you can get caught.

In fact, all it takes is one person outing you to wind up in an expensive lawsuit that can ruin your business and your personal finances. Why would you ever suggest taking the risk, especially when there are so many free, quality alternatives to choose from?