Game Development Software and Tools I’m Thankful For

Video game development has grown considerably since the birth of video games over 30 years ago, and finding the right game development software and tools to assist in the creation of titles has become a necessity. Given the complexity of today’s game design jobs and the limited amount of time that game developers have to spare, hard coding each and every element of a video game is completely unfathomable.

Fortunately, there is a vast array of game development software and tools, assets and programs available today. As we head into this season of gratitude, I find myself especially thankful for these tools that have become irreplaceable to game developers and their ongoing quest to create great video games.

Platform-agnostic Game Development Software

The tree of game development software technology has many branches. Even listing the categories of tools turns into quite the list:

  • Rendering and lighting of the game’s different environments
  • Artificial intelligence of the non-player characters (NPCs)
  • Collision and physics engines to control how objects interact in a game’s world
  • Audio engines for the sound effects and music.

That’s just scratching the surface, so you might begin to see the value of having one powerful, central game engine to assist with all of these different needs.

Game Development Software Tools-unreal
Image courtesy of Unreal Engines

Luckily, game engines have existed since the ’90s and continue to evolve. Born from the technical demands of early 3D first-person shooter games, Quake and Unreal are two such game engines, along with Unity. These game engines have allowed for truly prodigious growth in the industry.

This is because game engines are platform-agnostic systems — meaning the games that these development tools help make possible are not bound to any one video game console or system. Licensing deals can, of course, make system-exclusive titles in this day and age, but for the most part, these tools make cross-platform game development more readily accessible. This is vital for the success of independent or smaller developers in particular — keeping more creative minds in game design jobs. Plus, once a game developer learns one system, it’s applicable to multiple game projects. There’s no need to learn a new game engine for each separate title.

Game Development Software for Version Control

Video games go through several changes while in development, so I’m incredibly grateful for game development software like Git, SVN and Perforce that tracks and manages all the revisions made to each part of the gaming pipeline. When art, sound, AI, story, physics and every other component go through their own revision process, it’s helpful to be able to look back at each element’s revisions, and see who made each change and when.

Game Development Software Tools-github
Image courtesy of Github

I find distributed version control game development software like Git particularly valuable because every directory on each computer that’s attached to it has a full list of revisions made to a project and can track between its versions. There’s nothing more galling and heartbreaking than losing hours of game design work because a hard drive or computer malfunctioned. When these moments happen, it’s extremely valuable to have a record of software revisions on multiple machines so that you can easily re-trace your steps and re-create your work when it all goes south.

Game Development Tool for Communication – Slack

Game development teams can grow to supremely massive size in this day and age, especially on big-budget, AAA development titles like “Call of Duty” and “Assassin’s Creed.” A game development team dedicated to one asset — for example, level design or character art — might be as large, if not larger, than an entire game development team of yesteryear. Communication is vital — even if you have version control game development software tracking and managing the revisions to your video game, it’s important to keep team members apprised of any updates.

Game Development Software Tools-slack
Image courtesy of Slack

This is why Slack, known as the “email killer,” is such a great game development tool. Slack is an acronym for “Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge.” In other words, it offers a fantastic search function that allows different teams on a game to see exactly when each member sends a message or piece of content without getting muddled in a sea of old emails.

VR and AR

And now we look ahead to the future and give thanks for the new wealth of possibility that virtual reality and augmented reality are bringing to game design and development. It’s a future that students and professionals alike are getting excited about. I think it says something about the growth of virtual reality games and augmented reality games when a major video game retailer like GameStop has a dedicated page

virtual reality and augmented reality tools
Image courtesy of Microsoft

just for selling VR devices and virtual reality games. If you go back even a few years, you’d find articles waving off VR and AR as gaming’s next gimmick. That’s all changed with smash hit titles like Pokémon Go prompting even casual gamers to take notice. Video games have always been an interactive medium, even from the days of a single button and joystick. VR and AR are finally allowing the dream of a fully interactive, immersive gaming experience to become a reality. The industry still has a way to go, but the door’s finally open, and VR and AR represent the springboard for truly interactive gaming.

We live in a time where video game development is more accessible than ever before, thanks to game development software and tools such as these. With powerful tools available to more people, game developers are getting inspired to create truly stunning video games that push the industry forward. That’s truly something to be thankful for.

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