I've been working on a 2D game for the iPhone and learning a lot about game design in the process. I've looked at some of the most popular games for the iPhone ( angry birds, cut the rope, doodle jump, tiny wings, etc..) and have noticed that they're all 2D. Now I understand that some graphics knowledge is needed to create these games, but does a indie game developer really need to know graphics programming beyond the basics?

I feel there are two reasons that 2D games have greater success on mobile. One, lack of controller. Two, casual games need a more casual experience and 2D games cause less visual processing on the brain.

I'm asking this question because I'm still in school getting a cs degree and trying to decide on taking a real-time rendering course that will focus on GLSL and GPU programming or artificial intelligence. I've actually already taken a computer graphics course, but it focused on theory and we touched opengl very little. We implemented the graphics pipeline ourselves.

I get the feeling that studying color theory and basic drawing skills would be more helpful than GLSL or OpenGL ES 2.0 to master the aesthetics part of game design.

I could be short sighted though, because games like Braid and World of Goo might of relied a lot on graphics programming and I would love to be able make games of the same quality of these two.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, I have to downvote. This is a highly subjective matter, since your question is not problem specific. Is it wiser to learn drawing instead of spending the same amount of time learning to write fancy shaders? There's just no way to tell, because it depends on the game that you're trying to create. \$\endgroup\$
    – TravisG
    Commented Jul 25, 2011 at 18:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ The more you learn, the better. There is not such a thing as enough when it comes to learning and skills. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 25, 2011 at 18:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Like heishe said, it depends on the game. There's more reasons that popular games on iPhone are popular than just that they're in 2d (I can point out a million games that AREN'T popular but are 2d) \$\endgroup\$
    – thedaian
    Commented Jul 25, 2011 at 18:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ There absolutely is such a thing as enough when it comes to the knowledge you need to ship a game in a given timeframe, but that can't be generally quantified. \$\endgroup\$
    – user744
    Commented Jul 25, 2011 at 19:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I guess down voting is not justified, I see a valid question, which might be answered with justifications. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 25, 2011 at 20:05

2 Answers 2


Short answer: No. You can "be" an indie game developer without knowing anything about graphics.

More practically, it depends on the kind of graphics you want in your game.

If you want "fancy" graphics, meaning graphics that require whatever knowledge you're referring to, then someone has to know it. You either know it yourself and write the code, or you use a library written by someone[s] who knew it.

In any case, it will help to know "it", but of course we each have only so much time and you can't learn everything. The real question is, is there something else you'd be better off devoting time to learning, and the answer is that it really depends on what you want to do. You said you want to make a game of the quality of "Braid and World of Goo", and I'm not qualified to tell you what you need to know to do that. Maybe someone else will be.


You will need some basic knowledge in any case, but that can be obtained quite easy. But for your course decision I recommend you to consider another course. Yes both can be helpful, but i doubt they will be helpful in your case. First of all, AI course will be related with pure AI while in games it is mostly expert systems. For the real time rendering course, it will be so deep that you will not be able to use that knowledge. Yes its a good thing to know but you dont really need that if you are not planning to write a game engine. Of course I can give more advice if I can see curriculum. I am both a graphics and game programmer. Most of the time knowledge on one subject does not help with another. If you want to be a good indie developer, learn how to write a striking story or design natural feeling control mechanisms, or focus on a unique game which will be enjoyable and challenging enough (but no more).

If you ask me angry birds require more physics knowledge than graphics. I cannot comment other games since I dont know anything about them.


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