Dev Blog – The Stigma of Development Tools Laura Kate February 7, 2014 Developer Blog Editor – Gemma Thomson is a game designer and advocate for diversity in games. After working at Playniac in London for over a year, she departed Britain for Sweden – there to pursue her own projects and experience development culture abroad. Gemma is a co-founder of LadyCADE, hosting social events for women in games. She’s also an active participant in game jams, including the world’s first all-female ‘XX’ Game Jam and the Cancer Research UK hackathon. Today, she shares with us her thoughts on the stigma attatched to the use of certain development tools within the Indie Dev scene. When my partner and I abandoned the London commuter belt for a life in Sweden, I knew that I should seize a golden opportunity to ‘go solo’ as an indie game designer. With no more lengthy train journeys to occupy my evenings, and the chance to engage with a whole new development community abroad, I realised it was about time I broadened my skills beyond that of a designer and occasional 2D artist. So, after an adjustment period of settling in abroad, January rolled around and it was time to work on my own projects. Now, there’s a lot of advice around for people ‘going indie’, and much of it focuses upon the business aspect of development. Given that food and shelter are rather useful things to have when making games, it’s certainly worth paying attention to this advice. Once that’s been put aside though, we come down to a question which I’ve had to contemplate on many a snowy afternoon here in Stockholm: “how do I actually make my games?” As was discussed at length during the past year, we as game creators now have a banquet of tools available, for many levels of experience: the likes of Unity3D, GameMaker, RPG Maker and Twine, to name but a few. The banquet is so great, in fact, that there are probably at least two solid recommendations to be made for whatever genre of game you wish to make. Suffice it to say: I daren’t deal with specifics here. These tools have also been around for long enough now that there are some great examples of completed games which have been made using them – reassuring us, their prospective users, that we too can achieve results. … but are they that reassuring? Naturally, as I pondered my next move I realised I should spend my time learning and creating inside a “worthwhile” tool – something with cross-platform compatibility, utilising skills which I can apply elsewhere. There’s a temptation to take that thinking too far though, aiming for what I’d consider to be a ‘prestige’ tool even if you’re starting from scratch. It’s that egotistical imp in the back of your head who’ll verbally scold you for doing anything other than condensing years’ worth of coding education and practice into the space of 6 months, in what simply has to be an awe-inspiring, self-made project. The straw man indie developer is a potent ideal, and unless you are The Chosen One, then the journey from partly-formed developer to programmer, artist and writer extraordinaire in that sort of time frame will only end in tears. Your project is going to cost time, and it’s here we must engage in a spot of self-production – assuming you still intend to go solo, that is. If you have enough time to learn a tool which is as broad (and therefore complex) as those used by professional games programmers, then you have a grand goal and the enviable means with which to achieve it. More power to you! If, however, your need to get a game out favours tools which are more approachable, with a lot of the game structure already put in place, then it makes sense by almost every measure available to use those tools. I’d argue that it’s the indie equivalent to studios using middleware. So, it’s better to cut your cloth to suit your means, and work just outside your comfort zone – not an ocean away from it. After all, a game’s a game! “But.. won’t I be looked down upon for making a game in RPG Maker or Stencyl?” I must say: I’m relieved to see that other people on Twitter experience this too. Using other people’s work can feel like an admission of failure, and it might leave you feeling as though the work is somehow taken out of your hands. Be it code snippets, stock artwork or whole frameworks, however, all you’re doing is achieving your goals by deploying the tools within your grasp. To be able to do this within a reasonable timespan as well? That’s just good sense. I have heard that some developers will go out of their way to ‘shame’ games made in this way, but I call inferiority complex on them. While it’s definitely an admirable thing to hand-craft your own game mechanics, there are many games for which that amounts to re-treading old ground. Why spend a week learning how to craft an inventory system when there are tools already out there, providing many different variants of the same thing? ‘Buying that in’ leaves those of us who would never claim to be programmers with enough time to focus on the art, the narrative or even other aspects of the game mechanics. No-one should be ashamed to create, and while the development landscape has changed in recent years, I would suggest that those who feel put out by these user-friendly tools consider building some of their own. There’s money to be made in asynchronous game development.