I am regularly asked by many people, especially high school students, what they need to do/learn to get ready to make games. My advice is don’t wait until your in college to start learning to make games. Start now! With hard work, focus, and dedication, you can have your first game published before you leave high school!
The next question I am asked is what software do you need to get started.
Prepare to be overwhelmed! There are 5 major categories of software for game development: Art, Modeling, Programming, Sound and Game Engine
The industry standard that you need to learn Photoshop. Unfortunately, Photoshop is not free and is rather expensive. You can download GIMP, which is free and is a great Open Source alternative to Photoshop: http://www.gimp.org/
Next, you need to look into 3D modeling software. Maya and 3DS Max are the main tools used in the industry. You can get a 3-year student license of either one from http://students.autodesk.com/. A lot of people are starting to use blender http://www.blender.org. It isn’t as popular as 3DS Max, but it’s free and doesn’t have any restrictions on creating games like the student version of 3DS Max.
Learn Java (or C++, but I recommend Java). It is a free language that is being used more and more for web development and game development. http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/java/javase/downloads/index.html. I use Eclipse for my editor when programming with Java, also free and can be downloaded from: http://www.eclipse.org/
I haven’t found a sound editor that will do all that I need for free yet. I do tend to rely heavily on Sony’s Acid and Apple’s Garage Band for most of my music loops. Failing that I ask one of my former students who is in a band to make me some music (it’s good to have friends that are musicians!).
Then it is time to actually make a game!
Adobe Flash was the main tool used for web development, and is worth learning, but seems to be on its way out (but is far from dead, as is evidenced by all the Facebook games it has been used to develop).
I’m recommending two tools for game development now:
Unity 3D http://unity3d.com for making 3D games. It is free for the PC/Mac/Web deployment version until you make your first $100K, they also charge if you want to deploy to iPhone/Android/Xbox/Wii or want the pro version (which is awesome).
Corona by Ansca Mobile http://www.anscamobile.com for developing mobile apps and 2D games for iOS (Apple) and Android smart phones and tablets. While it isn’t free, the trial is and is not limited. So you take as long as you need learning to use Corona before you register.
Learning about all of these great tools:
There are tons of youtube videos on each one of these pieces of software. I also have quite a few tutorials on my blog on most of these topics. I have begun work on a textbook to be used by first semester Game Development students that covers how to get started on each of these. I hope to have it ready by early 2012.