How to make your own video game: Guide to using Twine, GameMaker: Studio and Unity engines
But whether you prefer console or PC gaming, chances are at some point you've wondered about making your own game — even if all you managed to do was draw out some level designs, like Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O'Malley did when he was younger.
Today's video games offer an unprecedented number of options in how we play them, from feverishly designing (or making a mockery of) our avatar's physical features in an RPG like Mass Effect to deciding what narrative choices our character makes in games like Witcher 3 to creating your own levels in Mario Maker.
Making a video game is obviously much harder, but there are some shortcuts you can take if you're just a beginner. You'll need a game engine — the components of which include physics, lighting engines, collision detection, animating models and more complex programming that can take years to develop. Most AAA game developers use in-house engines, such as UBISoft's Snowdrop engine or Valve's Source engine.
If you lack the programming expertise to build a game engine from scratch, never fear! There are a ton of open-source point-and-click engines you can utilize — without any coding experience — to make your own games. We've compiled a list of some of your best options to get started.
Beginner's guide to making your first video game with Twine — the spiritual successor to text adventures
Twine bills itself as "an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories." Think of it as being similar to a digital Choose Your Own Adventure novel, Twine allows you to make hypertext adventures with multiple endings limited only by how many connections you're willing to make.
That said, Twine doesn't have mechanics for a player to interact with other than clicking on the next hyperlink to advance the story. It's not conducive to creating something like a platformer or an RPG. However, as Twine games — like Tom McHenry's Horse Master: The Game of Horse Mastery — show, you can get surprisingly deep (and surreal) depending on your individual grasp of programming.
Beginner's guide to making your first video game with RPG Maker: The market's longest-running free RPG software
If you're interested in making a JRPG in the style of the Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest games, RPG Maker might be just what you're looking for. The newest version, RPG Maker MV, currently retails for a whopping $79.99 on Steam, but you can get your feet wet with a free trial before taking the (admittedly steep) plunge. If the price is still too high for you, opt for an older version of the engine like RPG Maker 2003 for $19.99 — which still comes with a third-person side-view battle system, perfect for that old-school RPG feel.
If you're looking to scratch a very particular turn-based itch, RPG Maker can help you make everything from the Corpse Party series (recently re-released on the PS Vita) to an extremely niche offering, like Space Funeral. However, it won't allow you to make anything outside of those fairly limited parameters.
Beginner's guide to making your first video game with GameMaker: Studio: Point-and-click game development
GameMaker: Studio marks the point in game-development software where things start to get a little more intense. It comes with a truly ridiculous amount of features, including drag-and-drop functionality for placing assets, an integrated physics and lighting engine, and the ability to incorporate third-party libraries and software development kits, which means you're not limited to GameMaker's software alone.
GameMaker: Studio has produced some fairly high-profile games recently, including Hotline Miami, Spelunky and Hyper Light Drifter (which was part of Mic's underrated games list for 2016!). In spite of some initial bias against it thanks to its simplicity, GameMaker: Studio is starting to gain some serious design credentials.
GameMaker: Studio is not without its shortcomings for those who want to design games. It's mainly focused on developing 2-D gaming, so Unity is the better option for developing 3-D games. Its user-friendliness can be a hindrance to learning more rigid coding languages. According to the New York Film Academy's student resources page, the free version of the software is only good for trying out the system; you're ultimately better off buying the $50 Professional version if you want to develop something of substance.
Beginner's guide to making your first video game with Unity: supporting everything from hobbyists to high-profile development
Unity is bit like GameMaker: Studio's big brother. It's a pre-built engine that lets users program games in both 2-D and 3-D. It also offers a wide array of multi-platform support for finished games (if you're serious about your game development) and allows you to utilize a ton of free (and paid) in-house assets via an online store. A number of high-profile developers — including Obsidian Entertainment (Pillars of Eternity, Tyranny) and Facepunch Studios (Rust) — use the Unity engine. Square Enix Montréal recently used Unity for its Android game Lara Croft Go, too. It's a powerful engine for creating professional-level game products.
Additionally, though Unity is free for personal use, users who make more than $100,000 using the software must purchase a Plus license, which allows you to earn up to $200,000 in profit before upgrading to the more expensive Pro license. This is undoubtedly a professional piece of software, and it might be a little too much if you're just looking for a way to experiment with games.
More guides for serious gamers
If you're serious about making your own video games you may also want to check out Mic's other guides for finding the best gaming mouse, along with a breakdown of everything you need to know about RAM to build your own PC.