Two months ago was the beginning of the end for me. Having modded Neverwinter Nights 2 on an on-and-off basis for the past four years or so, I could feel my interest in it flagging like an anchor sinking in the sea. I enjoyed the time I spent creating modules and custom content for NWN2, but I felt that I had already learned everything worth learning from it. If I am to grow any further, I have to cut my ties to NWN2 and create videogames of my own.
It wasn’t easy to choose which of the many platforms to develop for. I thought at first of jumping on the iDevice bandwagon and developing apps for it, but the investment in time and resources I would have had to make just wasn’t worth it. I didn’t have a Mac, a developer’s license, and the software to make apps. These aren’t cheap, but neither are they so expensive as to keep me out of the running. However, considering the likelihood that my first few apps won’t sell well enough to justify the annual cost of the developer’s license alone, I decided to search elsewhere for a platform to cut my teeth on.
What about consoles? I may not be able to make a retail console game, but I can make small, downloadable games for WiiWare or Xbox Live. The entry barrier for making Xbox Live games is much lower than that for WiiWare, although for indie games, there is still the issue of an annual membership fee to be paid. What’s especially great about Xbox Live is that Visual Studio Express and the XNA Game Studio, software that can be used for developing Xbox games, are free. A low entry barrier means that the competition is plentiful, however, and it may be difficult to be noticed in the crowd of cheap, downloadable games.
On the other hand, with so many people developing mobile apps and indie console games, I wondered if making games for the PC wasn’t such a bad idea. I know that PC sales have been taking a beating as mobile devices become more and more powerful, a trend that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the percentage of households with PCs has been declining. Households may not be getting new PCs as often as before, but they may still be running old but serviceable PCs. If so, then there may be decent demand for PC games that don’t require powerful hardware to run. That would be good news for me if it were true because I’m not about to churn out the next Skyrim or Call of Duty all by my lonesome.
The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. There are no license fees to be paid for making PC games, and many of the software tools are free. Considering the very low risks involved, PC development seems to be the way for me to go at this time. It’s a niche market, to be sure, but it’s a good niche for starting out with.
Having decided on the platform, I searched the Internet for a good game engine to use. PCs are finicky machines because most of them are not engineered and assembled by a single manufacturer. Consequently, a game that works perfectly on one PC may run into problems on another. This reason alone is enough to justify acquiring a reliable game engine to mitigate potential problems on PC compatibility. Add to that the fact that development time is lower when using a good game engine, and the question of whether to get one becomes a no-brainer.
So which of the many available PC game engines should I get? Some, such as Multimedia Fusion 2 and Torque 3D, cost money to acquire, but there are also several good engines that are free. Unity3D is a popular engine for making 3D games, and it has a version that is free to download, but I want to stick to 2D game development for now because 3D assets take longer to make. I know that 2D games can be made with Unity3D, but it would be like going against the tide just to make it work. There is another popular engine called GameMaker that comes in a free version, but it is so lacking in essential features that one might as well purchase one of the paid versions to get any real work done. Other free engines that are worth mentioning include Construct Classic and the Wintermute engine. All of these produce executable files, which means that developers need to address the problem of how to market and distribute the files while ensuring that they don’t get pirated (much).
After looking into the matter a bit, I realized that it is possible to develop free-to-play browser-based games and still make some money from them. Flash games in particular can be sold to sponsors on FGL.com, or they may be uploaded to sites such as Kongregate or Newgrounds, which offer a percentage of ad revenue to developers. We’re not talking big money here, but we’re not dealing with the kind of risks that triple-A developers go through either. It isn’t even necessary to have Adobe Flash Professional to make a Flash game. Developers on a tight budget can make Flash games using only free software. If their game development ventures become successful, they can purchase Flash later.
Hence, I’ve decided to make a Flash game for my initial foray into indie game development. My first game may or may not be popular, but I hope to learn from my experiences and eventually make better games in the future.
The end of my NWN2 modding days marks a new beginning for me. I do not know how successful I will be on this journey, but one thing is certain. I will never know unless I take the first step.