The indie developers best friends: free tools

When I started Orangepixel (waaaaay back in 2004) I did so on a very small budget. I think it was close to €100, which were the costs of registering as a company and setting up a domain+website. Over the years the software I used has changed, and it hasn’t all been free, but it’s surprising how many awesome tools there are available for close to nothing to help create games.

The daily used tools

The main software I use is obviously the IDE – the program to write code in. There are many great options out there, and I was using Eclipse for many years, but switched to IntelliJ last year and don’t plan on ever going back. I found the many short-cuts for code-navigation in IntelliJ to be very powerful and fit right into my workflow/mind-set. Also it’s integration of the various plugins for Android, Git and such are slightly better or at least feel smoother. The whole IDE feels smoother and faster than Eclipse. Might be different on Windows or Linux, but for macOS, IntelliJ is the winner for me.

Seeing as I also do my own artwork, I use the awesomely free Gimp for all my pixel-art and marketing image stuff. Now I’m sure Gimp isn’t for everyone, but the fact that it runs on all major OS’s and has come a long way in recent years, and it’s free, make for a great tool that I use daily.

The infrequently used tools

Besides the basic tools required for my daily work, I also frequently grab Audacity for my sound-effects. I have collected a lot of sound-effect libraries in the recent years, and with Audacity I can often cut-n-paste, or clean up, and convert the sound effects to the required file and format. Not something I do daily, but it’s still a very important tool in my process.

For marketing reasons the creation of a cool trailer is important, but also the creation of short GIF’s for social-media sharing is part of that. It took me some time to find the right software for this, and there sadly was no free version around (at least not on macOS, on Windows there are some good alternatives). So I stumbled on Screenflow, which captures the screen correctly (the biggest issue with other software) and is very simple to work with. Since the last version it can also export into GIF so that makes it even better! It’s still fairly cheap, and comparing the costs of this software purchase with the price of somebody else creating trailers for me, there’s no contest!

The website services

Of course these days it’s very rare to be working without using ANY web-service. I’m sure it’s possible, but I wouldn’t want to anymore.

For my source-code I use Git through Bitbucket, a great free service that allows you to store a bunch of projects/source-codes on their services. It serves as a back-up, version-control, and sharing code with others. With IntelliJ’s integration with Git, it’s the press of a couple of buttons to quickly make sure my weekly changes are backed-up.

For task management I always used a simple document (in Google docs) but since last year I made the change to Trello, which works perfectly. There’s a real sense of completion when you move a task from the todo list to the “test” or “implemented” lists. Just a drag-n-drop makes you feel like you have been productive! With Trello now being owned by the same people as Bitbucket, I hope there will be some cool integration between the services.

The final big service I use a lot is Google Drive, the cloud-storage prices are extremely low these days that it’s just a much easier, safer and cheaper way to store my backups and documents then having an external HD. I use Google Docs for invoices, stored on Drive, game design documents, and as mentioned backing up source-code (just to have an extra backup besides Git).

Altho not so much a service, I do like to add that I use a self-hosted WordPress to run my website. In the beginning I designed and wrote my own website code but nothing really beats the ease of WordPress and it’s many plugins. It requires some setting up to make sure the hacking-bot/script-kiddies don’t hack your site, but there are some plugins for that which can help you (WP-Cerber and Sucuri security are two important ones).


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