Everything You Need To Know Before You Make A 2D Game

Ross Bramble
5th March 2023

Making a 2D game is easy: fling a few canaries into the side of a pig fortress and you're on your way to two billion downloads and an easily-forgotten cinematic universe, right?

Mastering 2D game development involves more than just basic design; it requires a deep understanding of 2D game design principles, programming, and effective storytelling.

Whether you're inspired by Angry Birds or Undertale, here’s everything you need to know before you make your own 2D game.

This article includes:


Angry Birds, developed by Rovio Entertainment

What is a 2D game?

2D games are flat, sprite-based experiences that only allow you to move up, down, left, and/or right across the screen.

2D games don’t have to be complicated. They work as well as they do because 2D games lower the barrier for entry and are far easier to pick up and play than 3D games.

What was the first 2D game?

The first 2D game ever made was Tennis For Two, a simple tennis game and precursor to the more well-known arcade classic, Pong.

It was created in 1958 by the American physicist William Higinbotham, setting humanity on a path that would ultimately lead us to games like Lollipop Chainsaw and Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Sim.

Cheers, Will.


Tennis For Two, created by William Higinbotham

How do you make your own game?

Making your own game can feel pretty daunting if you’ve never done it before, but find yourself the right 2D game maker and settle the big decisions early, and you might find 2D game development easier than you thought.

1. Find the perfect 2D game engine for your project

The first thing you need is a 2D game maker or game engine, specifically designed for 2D game programming. 

There are dozens of quality game engines available to you, but they're not all created equal. If you need some helping deciding which 2D game creator is right for you, check out our guide to the best game engines for beginners.

Now we know what you’re thinking: ‘this is the part where GameMaker explains why I should use their game engine to make my own game, right?’.

Well, we certainly think we’re a great option for anyone wanting to get into 2D game development, but picking the right game engine is a vital decision. Just as the wand chooses the wizard, the game engine chooses the developer.

You need to be sure your software can do everything you need it to, and that you’re comfortable using it, if you want to realise your game’s full potential. GameMaker is specially designed to support 2D game development, so we are a very reliable choice, but we won't stand on your lawn playing 'What Becomes of the Brokenhearted' if you choose a different engine!

2. Choose your 2D game genre

Deciding on your game’s genre is one of the first major game design choices you have to make. Settling on the genre early will help inform many of the decisions you’ll go on to make, including control schemes and design philosophies.

Some game genres are perfect for 2D, like puzzle games, platformers, and visual novels. Others, like first-person shooters, are better suited to 3D game development.

If you’re stuck for ideas, check out our comprehensive guide to the most popular 2D game genres.


Ori and the Blind Forest, developed by Moon Studios

3. Choose your 2D art style

Choosing a 2D art style is a deceptively important decision. Would the ominous atmosphere of Limbo have worked if it wasn’t monochromatic? Would Ori and the Blind Forest’s heart-breaking intro be as emotional if the game used pixel art?

A well-chosen art style can help you set the tone, tell your story, and make your game stand out from the crowd.

We’ve pooled a list of some of the most popular video game art styles to help you make the best choice for your game.

4. Make or choose your 2D game assets

Assets are the sprites, backgrounds, and objects that make up your project. If you’re going to make your own game, you’ll either need to use free assets, buy ready-made ones, hire someone to make them for you, or make them yourself.

You can download 2D assets from your game engine’s asset library or marketplace. You’ll sacrifice a bit of originality if you take this route, but you’ll be able to start making your own games much faster.

Creating 2D game assets from scratch is time-consuming work, but grants you full control over your game’s artistic direction.

If you’re planning on making your own 2D assets, here’s a quick rundown of some of your best software options:

  • Adobe Photoshop, which will set you back $20.99 a month
  • GIMP, free and open-source image editing software
  • Aseprite, a pixel art creation tool available for a one-off $19.99 payment
  • SketchBook Pro, available for free on mobile devices, and $19.99 desktop
  • Inkscape, free and open-source software that specialises in vector graphics.

If you’ve decided to make a pixel art game, we’ve put together a guide to help you understand how to create pixel art for 2D games.

At GameMaker, we also release a new asset bundle each month to help indie developers bring their creations to life.


GameMaker Asset Bundle 1: Fantasy Platformer

How hard is it to make a game?

Lots of time and effort goes into making indie games and AAA games as good as they can be, but there are ways to make the process simpler.

We’ve written an article exploring the main stages of game development, which can help you establish a blueprint to keep your development cycle running smoothly. You might be surprised to learn that there are only seven steps you need to worry about.

As with anything in life, game development gets easier the more you do it. Start out small with guided tutorials and simple one-room projects, and add onto your knowledge as you go. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to make a game like Undertale, Cuphead, or Stardew Valley.

How long does it take to make a 2D game?

It varies, depending on the game you’re making and your own experience levels.

By following our Hero's Trail tutorial, you can make a game within half an hour, even if you’ve never coded a game before.

If you’re looking to make your own game from scratch, 2D games are easier to make than 3D games, but they can still take months or even years to make, depending on your circumstances.

Check out our article, ‘How long does it take to make a video game?’, for a full breakdown.

How much does it cost to make a 2D game?

There’s no easy answer to this one, either - it’ll all depend on what game you’re making and how much of the work you’re taking on yourself, among other things. We cover all your potential expenses in our article, ‘How much does it cost to make a video game?’.

It’s perfectly possible to make a game for free, though - you can download free game-making software (like GameMaker!) and get started right now, if you’d like.

How to make a game on a budget

Some indie developers turn to crowdfund campaigns on Kickstarter to help raise the funds they require to complete their games. Hyper Light Drifter, for example, set an initial target of $27,000 and ultimately raised $645k.

You might also consider releasing your game in Early Access. When they’re done well, Early Access releases are a win/win for developer and consumer alike. As we discuss in our Early Access article, though, getting them right can be a tricky balance.


Hyper Light Drifter, developed by Heart Machine

How to come up with amazing 2D video game ideas

If you're on the hunt for a killer video concept, check out our guide to generating high-quality video game ideas.

How to make a 2D game with GameMaker

If you’re ready to start making your own 2D game, why not give GameMaker a go?

GameMaker is a completely free game engine for beginners and professionals alike, specialising in the creation of 2D games. The software has been used to develop well-known indie games such as Undertale, Hotline Miami, and the BAFTA award-winning Chicory: A Colorful Tale.

It’s free to download and keep forever, and you can even create your first game within half an hour with our Hero’s Trail tutorial.

You can also sign up to the GameMaker Forum and pose any game-making questions you may have to the indie game dev community.

Happy GameMaking!

Written by Ross Bramble
As GameMaker's resident gaming historian, Ross Bramble brings over a decade of writing experience to managing our blog and producing our gaming articles. In his spare time, he likes to complain about how long it's been since we last saw a new Kid Icarus game.
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