Getting Started in Game Development

Posted by Dr. Burton on July 8, 2011 in Android, Corona, Education, Flash CS5, Game Development, iPad, iPhone, Java Tutorials, Mobile, Unity3D |

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/

3D Modeling

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!).

Game Engines

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.

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  • david says:

    In “getting started with app development”, you omitted Pixelmator? Do you have any ideas if this software is a viable solution over GIMP?

    This whole area of image designing is not my first love. But I would love to learn and improve in this area. The rest (of mobile development) is just great. Will you be covering much on image design in the book or future articles on your web site? This seem to be where I’m losing time.

    I also interested in your book. Please let me know if the code samples are downloadable from github or another source.


  • Dr. Burton says:

    I’m not familiar with Pixelmator, beyond that it is Mac only and is $29.99. I guess that’s why I suggested GIMP as it is available for Mac & PC (though you do have to jump through a few hoops to get the mac version) and free.
    It looks to be a viable alternative, but as I said, I’m not experience with it.

    In my first book, “Mobile App Development with Corona” I focus on the app development side and just using Corona APIs. I am now working on a new series of books that will cover the full pipeline of game development. Each book in the series will cover everything from start to finish on creating a game, art, modeling, sound, and coding. Any requests for a specific type of game?
    The code samples are/will be downloadable for all of my books.

  • Rick says:

    For sound is not audacity acceptable

  • Victor says:

    Dr. Burton,

    Just bought the pre-release of your Corona book. Looks great so far! I look forward to your future books on creating games from start to finish. Would it be possible to outline what applications you will be using for development of each aspect. In other words, what software you will be using for each book? I want to try to get up to speed on the software, ahead of time, that will be used in each book for every aspect of game creation.


  • Dr. Burton says:

    While we will include the ‘professional tools (photoshop, 3DS Max, etc), I plan to include free tools as well (Blender, Gimp). I have received a lot of feedback from students wanting to do app development, but can’t afford the professional tools. We are planning on a balanced approach with the broadest possible appeal.

  • i just want ask can unity3d make 2d game also i see “MAX and magic marker” made by unity and not to need to corona. as you know Dr.Burton unity WYSIWYG but corona not WYSIWYG and corona need good lua programmer with good graphics items i mean there is no assist of this like unity …
    what do think Dr about this ….?

  • Dr. Burton says:

    Yes, Unity can make 2D games, though it is a little more involved and development is not as fast (in my opinion). Corona will have a WYSIWYG level editor early next year.

    I have always believed you should select the right tool for the job you are trying to perform. I currently have projects in development for with both Unity3D and Corona. In Corona, I am making apps, side-scrolling, and top-down games. I use Unity for 3D or 2 1/2D games.

  • Greg says:

    Dr Burton – Any advise re a free 3D library/framework for IOS for someone just wanting to play with some simple 3d on iPhone/ipdad?

  • Dr. Burton says:

    A free 3D library? No, I’m not aware of any at this time. Cocos-2D is a great open source resource, but I’m not aware of a 3D open source resource for iOS.

    Anyone know of a resource?

  • Payam says:

    Dr. Burton, is There a Free engine for making android games and pubilish on market ?
    cause as you said , none of these engines ( unity & corona ) is not free.
    sorry for my bad english.

  • Dr. Burton says:

    I am only aware of Cocos2D for Android that is free. Last I checked it was some forward movement, but I’m not sure of the current status.
    My recommendation is to go with Unity for Android (for 3D projects) or Corona (for 2D projects). Yes, they cost money, but if you have a good idea, you will quickly earn it back selling your game.

  • Kristoffer says:

    Unity3d does have a free version, but it doesnt have real time shadows and some other stuff but it works great.

  • Justin says:

    Hey Dr Burton, I do not have a lot of knowledge in the coding/scripting area and I want to make a 3-d game that would run smoothly for both android and iOS. What are your recommendations? and in the Game Engine you basically add all the sounds, pictures and other things to design and complete the game correct?

    and besides Unity 3D is there any others that are good for 3D game making? They must be reliable and only charge one/twice off costs, I don’t preferably like the royalty way.


  • Dr. Burton says:

    For 3D, I like Unity3D. They have a fair pricing scheme and don’t ask for royalties of your published games. The only downside is that it does cost to produce for mobile devices. The other big-name option is Unreal engine. It supports mobile devices but after you have made $50K, they require 25% royalties on your games.
    As to making the games, yes, you add the sounds, graphics, and design, but you will need to understand scripting enough (or have someone on your team that understands scripting) to know what scripts use and how to install them.

  • Anirban says:

    I am a passionate game technology follower. I like your blogging efforts in this arena.I would be eagerly waiting for your full pipeline series on game development.

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