As a game developer, having the right tools in your toolkit can make all the difference between a smoothly running game development process and absolute chaos. Over the years, I’ve assembled my own essential set of game development tools that help me work efficiently, iterate quickly, and deliver high quality games on time.
In this post, I’ll share the must-have tools that every game developer should have in their arsenal, whether you’re building mobile games, console games, or PC games. I’ll provide an overview of each tool, explain why it’s useful, and give examples based on my own experiences using them for game projects.
Why game developer need tools
The game engine is the heart of the computer game and the central tool of the game developer. Central, but not the only one – without a three-dimensional graphics editor, a program for creating animated characters, a sound editor, a tool for creating levels, a font design tool and much more, the work of an indie developer would simply be impossible. Modern game development agency actively use instruments up to the request of the exact client.
Game engines are the foundation for building any video game. Instead of coding everything from scratch, game engines provide pre-built modules for tasks like rendering graphics, detecting collisions, receiving input, controlling audio, and more. This saves an enormous amount of time and makes game development feasible for small teams or solo developers.
Examples of popular game engines include:
- Unity – An all-purpose engine used by indie developers and big studios alike. Supports 2D, 3D, AR/VR, and publishing to virtually any platform. Free to use with pro pricing options.
- Unreal Engine – Advanced 3D engine with stunning visuals. Used for high-end console and PC games. Free with 5% royalty on earnings after $1 million revenue.
- GameMaker Studio – Beginner-friendly 2D engine for building 2D games quickly. Affordable licensing based on export platform.
I’ve used both Unity and Unreal Engine extensively. Unity’s ease of use makes it my go-to for most projects, while Unreal shines if I need cutting-edge 3D graphics. The important thing is picking an engine suited to your project’s scope and technical needs.
Version control systems
Version control systems help teams manage changes to source code over time. They let you track revisions, easily merge changes from multiple developers, and roll back to previous versions if needed.
For game projects, I rely on Git paired with GitHub for remote hosting. Git’s distributed model means everyone has a local copy of the full history, supporting smooth collaboration. GitHub provides a centralized hub to host the canonical repo and enables issues, pull requests, and reviews.
Other popular version control options include Perforce and SVN. Ultimately the best system is one your team knows well. But Git has become a standard for good reason – it’s flexible and robust enough for both large and small projects.
IDEs and code editors
An integrated development environment (IDE) maximizes programmer productivity with features like intelligent code completion, debugging, and project management. For coding large game projects in languages like C# or C++, an IDE is essential.
For Unity, I use Visual Studio to leverage its top-notch C# support. For Unreal Engine, Visual Studio Code works nicely as a lightweight code editor.
When working with web-based frameworks like Phaser.js, I prefer Sublime Text for its speed and customizability. Lightweight text editors give me flexibility without the overhead of heavier IDEs.
The needs of your game and project team ultimately determine the best coding environment. Evaluate options like Visual Studio, Xcode, Android Studio or JetBrains IDEs to choose what makes sense.
Asset creation tools
Games come to life through art, animation, audio, and other digital assets. Game engines import assets to display in-game. The right creative tools are critical for an efficient asset pipeline.
For 2D art, Adobe Photoshop is indispensable for textures, concept art, and sprite sheets. Aseprite excels at pixel art and animation.
3D artists use tools like Blender, Maya, or 3ds Max for modeling, animation, and sculpting detailed assets.
When outsourcing asset creation, Spine helps streamline 2D character animation with skeletal rigging. Audacity is great for quick audio editing.
I optimize my workflow by choosing flexible tools tailored to each project’s specific art style and technical constraints. The goal is enabling creators to work quickly and focus on the assets, not wrestling with tools.
Bug tracking & project management
Even with great tools, game development involves complex, interlocking systems. Tracking bugs, tasks, features, and releases is critical, especially on large teams.
For project management, I’m a huge fan of Trello and its Kanban-style boards. The flexibility suits agile game dev perfectly. I create columns for things like Backlog, In Progress, Testing, Done, and assign cards to represent tasks.
For bug tracking, Jira is powerful but overkill for smaller projects. GitHub Issues integrate nicely with source control for lightweight bug reports including steps to reproduce, priority, and assignments.
Daily standups keep everyone aligned, while postmortems help reflect on burndown rates, velocity, and learnings to improve processes. The right framework controls chaos and ships better games.
Squashing bugs and delivering a smooth gameplay experience requires thorough testing. Automated testing maximizes coverage through:
- Unit testing – Validates individual functions and classes
- Integration testing – Confirms different systems work together properly
- UI testing – Automates interface tests for consistent results
Unity Test Runner and Unreal Engine Automation make test automation painless. For mobile, Appium supports consistent cross-platform UI testing.
For manual playtesting, remote tools like PlaytestCloud facilitate large-scale user feedback. Local video recording helps spot hiccups in animation, lighting, or effects.
A test-driven development approach surfaces bugs early when they’re cheaper to fix. Automated testing frees humans to focus on high-value, exploratory testing. The result is higher quality, playable games.
Source control & build tools
Finally, source control and build tools connect all the dots – managing code, assets, bugs, and releases:
- Perforce offers enterprise-grade version control and asset management tailored to game dev pipelines
- Jenkins is great open source automation server for CI/CD and build pipelines
- Unity Cloud Build streamlines building, testing, and publishing from a git repo
Robust build pipelines save countless headaches when integrating work from large, distributed teams. They enable automated testing, smoother handoffs between departments, and reliable releases.
While individual tools provide focused functionality, their powers combine like Voltron when connected through source control and automation. This transformational workflow improvement is essential for professional game studios.
Game development tools continue advancing rapidly, but proven options exist for every task. The key is choosing technologies suited to your team’s skills, project scope, and platforms. Mastering these essential game dev tools empowers developers to focus their energy on gameplay innovation and delivering quality player experiences.
The tools are means, not ends. Keeping the human experience central beyond pure technical wizardry is what elevates good games into magical ones. Equipped with these tools, your team can craft amazing worlds that captivate players and bring joy.
Now get out there, play some great games for inspiration, and use these tools to make something new!
What is the most popular game engine?
Unity is currently the most popular game engine, used by indie developers and AAA studios alike. Its ease of use and flexibility across platforms like mobile, console, and desktop make it an excellent choice for many projects.
Should I use an IDE or text editor for coding games?
For large projects, an IDE like Visual Studio provides helpful features for coding, debugging, and project organization. For lighter tasks or web-based games, a text editor like Sublime gives flexibility without overhead. Evaluate options based on your team’s experience and project scope.
How can I tell if a game idea is feasible to develop?
Create a simple prototype focused on core gameplay using an engine like Unity or GameMaker. Test it with real players to see if the idea resonates. Prototyping early reveals complexities and gives an honest assessment of scope. If the concept shows promise, you can flesh it out into a full game.
What coding languages are commonly used in game development?
Should I bother making mobile games anymore?
Absolutely! With billions of mobile devices, the potential audience is massive. Tailor your game’s scope for quick, addictive gameplay that fits the mobile context. Focus playtesting on the target devices early and often. Promote cleverly through ads and influencers to stand out in a crowded market.
How can I limit game scope from ballooning too much?
Define your minimum viable product (MVP) with just enough features to convey the core experience. Add bits of polish and complexity in later sprints once the basics work. Playtest MVP builds early and often to validate you’re on the right track. Cut features that don’t enhance the MVP experience.
What education is needed to become a game developer?
Some study computer science or game development programs, but many are self-taught. Learn an engine like Unity through online courses and experimentation. Start by modifying existing small projects before tackling original games. Participate in game jams to get experience completing projects under tight timelines.
How can I make my game art and animations look professional?
Study art fundamentals like color theory, composition, and lighting. Master creative tools through tutorials and experimentation. Analyze aesthetics of games with appealing visuals. Reuse assets from asset stores, then replace with custom work later. Focus on clean, readable silhouettes and animations. Polish as time allows.