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Tips for a One Man Gamedev Team: Should You Make Your Own Development Tools?

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From level editors to physics engines to entire video game creation interfaces, there are a multitude of tools that exist to help both experienced and budding game developers get things done easily and efficiently. But as a one man team, should you be looking into these time savers for your first project, or should you go solo?

Using Tools Is Awesome

I've said it before and I'll say it again: building a videogame as a one man hobbyist is a whole different beast from regular video game development. Without the presence of time constraints or monetary obligations, you can take many more liberties and chances in their development. Unfortunately, being only one person also means everything seems to take a lot more work.

This is where tools come in. Why take the time to create a 2D level editor when others have already spent countless hours of their life making great ones like DAME or Ogmo? Why build a rigid body physics engine when the likes of Box2D is freely available?

Using something elegant like this (Ogmo Editor) certainly makes things easy...

For many people, there won't be a good answer to these questions. If you're building a video game as a means to an end -- as in, you are interested only in the final product and not the development experience -- then using these tools is a no-brainer. Most are well-documented and highly flexible, so with a little bit of work they can be adapted to most any type of project.

If you wanted to you could even use a point and click gamedev tool like Construct 2 or Stencyl to skip some or all of the programming portion of development entirely.

There really isn't much to say here; using premade tools is a convenience. It's efficient, it's effective, it's fun and it's much easier than the alternative of making things yourself from scratch.

But You Shouldn't Do It

If you're reading this article it means you’re interested in learning about game development. Why else would you be on a site filled with tutorials on the subject? For this reason, I encourage you to forego using tools and to try doing things yourself.

This will, without a doubt, require a much larger amount of work than using tools someone else has built, but the payoff will be absolutely enormous -- especially if this is your first development experience. You will learn so much about how various systems in games are set up, and gain valuable debugging and code architecture skills while setting up your own development environment.

Plus, the tools you will create for yourself will be perfectly tailored to the development of your particular game, which will save you a lot of time in the long run. You will also find it much easier to add features you hadn't anticipated, because, well, you created the tools, and so you understand them better.

...still, making your own tools can be much more rewarding!

I'm not saying there is no place for third-party tools in video game development -- in fact, I think quite the opposite is true. Game development of every form is based on the work of others and this remains true even on the small scale of one-man development.

However, doing things yourself the first time around will really help you understand how the third-party tools you will undoubtedly end up using are made, and you will be able to use (and even more importantly, modify) them more effectively because of it.

When it comes down to it, it might seem like a long and difficult process, and you might really not want to do it, but I strongly encourage first time developers to use as few third party tools as possible. Your game probably won't be the greatest, the tools you create will definitely not be up to the standards you see in others' work, but the knowledge you will gain during the process will prove to be absolutely invaluable.

If you enjoyed this, check out my other tip for a one man gamedev team: What to Do Before Even Touching a Computer. And for more info on tools, take a look at The Many Types of Tools for Game Developers.
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