Old style paper press

Game Design Tools

Tools and resources for the beginning game designer.

  • Computer Tools:

These are the programs and tools that you’d use on your local workstation.  There are very few PC based resources here, I freely admit to having a Macintosh and “unix” bias.

The usual suspects (Adobe, et. al) are not included in the list – because the current subscription model is not viable for me.  It is hard to cost-justify.  Most of these are stand-alone, free tools.

This list also reflects my design philosophy: I am not a graphic designer.  My tools don’t need to be of a professional graphic designer caliber.  When and if I get to a level where I need that professional edge – I’ll hire somebody.  Until then, I hack with basic, low cost tools.

  •  GIMP – the GNU Image Manipulation Program.  If you have an existing image, this is a great place to edit it to your needs.  There are loads of support resources and tutorials.   A word of warning though – it is not good for pre-press without a bit of work.  It cannot do CMYK natively.  (This is the poor man’s “Photoshop”)
    • There are people addressing the problem of CMYK for GIMP – and you can find good help here: GIMP CMYK Support
  • Inkscape – a vector graphics editor.  Fair warning, it’s a bit klutzy in OS X, in that it really doesn’t run in the native user interface (Aqua).  That said, it can be done and it’s worth the hassle. (This is the poor man’s “Illustrator”)
    • UPDATE – I upgraded to macOS 10.15.1 (Catalina) and Inkscape broke.  I cannot say I was sad.  I had a very complex hate-driven relationship with the tool.  
    • To help take the edge off – check out this post.
  • DrawBerry – A free vector drawing tool.  Not super powerful but it is great for simple tasks.
    • The current version (0.8.1) is not optimized for the latest OS X and it might not be updated.
    • I no longer use this application.
  • Boxy SVG Editor – A relatively simple vector graphics editor.  It is relatively inexpensive, but not free.
  • Scribus – open source desktop publishing. This is the tool for pre-press layout tool for written materials.  (This is the poor man’s “PageMaker”, “InDesign”, “QuarkExpress”)
  • LibreOffice – another great open source tool – with basic spreadsheet, word processor, drawing and other tools.
  • iWork – The free Apple productivity suite.  Pages, Numbers and Keynote.  The bulk of my creation process calls for a simple word processor, a spreadsheet tool that can make delimited files and maybe some story-boarding for more complex games.  The Apple suite does this just fine.
  • G Suite – A great tool for collaborating on projects.  Free versions available if you set up a gmail account and set up Google drive.
  • Evernote – Cross platform, constantly synchronizing, secure, shareable… I. Love. This. Tool.  The simplicity is what appeals to me the most.  Every game idea I get is recorded here.  Some folks are rumbling (with merit) that Evernote is stagnating and possibly on the decline.  That said, they got a new CEO at the end of 2018 – and this is what he is saying.  I find it encouraging – so I’m not jumping ship as of yet.
  • Affinity – A suite of applications that are reasonably priced, very Macintosh friendly (iPads and Desktops) and seriously powerful.  I’m trialing the beta version of their Publisher application. Some people are calling these tools the “Adobe killers”.  They may be right.
    • ADDENDUM – holy crap – yes, Adobe killer and Inkscape refugee savior.  This tool is a dream.  Powerful and easy to use.  What would take me several hours was several minutes in Affinity Designer.  NOT KIDDING.  This is a time and brain saver.  Now I want the whole suite.
    • Key features – layers, vectors, CMYK

Online Content Resources:

Online Tools and Vendors:

  • The Game Crafter – (for me) a local business that offers prototyping, components, a selling platform, tutorials… These are great people and a great resource when you want to get beyond basic paper, pencil and other homebrew things.
  • Component Studio – an offshoot of The Game Crafter – this is a powerful on line service that allows you to generate content like decks of cards or stacks of chits by using templates and simple CSV files.  Instead of manually designing each card in the deck (say, in Inkscape or Scribus), this tool allows you to build a framework and generate the entire deck with an imported data file.  It can export to print-and-play PDFs or can be sent to The Game Crafter for a more professional production.  Yes – a learning curve is involved, but they offer plenty of tutorials online.  If you need to make cards or similar collections of items – this tool might be worth it to you.  (There is a subscription fee – but they often offer discounts or freebie trials.)
  • Print & Play – A prototyper that many of my game creator friends have used.

Other Resources: