Game Engines: Guide to pick the right!

How to develop a game step 1: take the right engine for your development

Made by the author Arnold Abraham

Picking the right game engine can be confusing. Even therefore, it is essential to inform yourself about the options beforehand. Developing a game takes time. If you waste your time with the wrong game engine, you probably won’t even start the game or in the long run, won’t be able to finish it. I made this mistake myself. I didn’t inform myself, and when I decided to develop a game, I couldn’t even code. Luckily, I picked the right engine and released some projects later on. But the very first game development I made is still unreleased, not even finished up to 30% yet.

To give you the chance to make it better, here is my line up of 5 game engines you might choose one from. [1]

Unity — Mobile’s best choice

official unity logo, all rights reserved

Many games were developed with unity. Especially mobile games. I did too and have plans for more. This one is more like a universal tool because it addresses designers, artists, and coders. They support all relevant hardware platforms. MacOs/Windows/Linux, PS4/Xbox One, and also Android/IOS. I think there are more, but these are the most relevant ones.

The runtime itself was made in C++ but the scripting of your game is done in C# only. There was a time where Unity supported JavaScript. They’d like to call it UnityScript.

You can use 2D and 3D creation tools and you build your game with one or many scenes. Inside these scenes are game objects. These game objects are static elements of your scene. You bring them to life by attaching scripts and other pre-configured behavioral components. We can transform a game into this hierarchy.

Unity Game Hierarchy made by Arnold Abraham

Consisting of only three key elements. Pretty easy, huh?

Unity also provides tools to use materials on surfaces, play sounds/music, light sources, animation, and many more complex objects. The creation tools are giving you the opportunity to create cut scenes with movie effects. Plugins to extend those possibilities are also available in the Unity Asset Store.

You can use the game view to simulate your game. The design tools provide a timeline for cut scenes with effects and animations. They are extensible via plug-ins. The graphics engine bases on OpenGL [2] and Direct3D [3]. This leads to various lighting methods, support for music and sounds, landscape modelers, a tree and plant editor, particle effects tools, and motion control for characters. There is also support for multiplayer and team collaboration.

As I mentioned, there are a lot of hardware platforms supported. So the last step is to export your game. Choose the one platform you are developing for and you are ready to make the game of your dreams become true.

Game companies like Electronic Arts, Lego, Ubisoft, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and Square Enix are using this engine. It is the base of the games Pokémon Go, Super Mario Run & Angry Birds 2.

The engine is free.

If you’re a freelancer using Unity for commercial projects and your gross annual revenue for the previous fiscal year was less than USD100,000. Unity is available free of charge. — Unity [4]

I recommend this engine to create mobile games or easy 2D games. Also, lightweight 3D games are simple to create. If you know C# on an intermediate level and have no fear of Scenes — GameObjects & Components, this is your engine.

Unreal Engine — Basement for many games

unreal engine official logo, all rights reserved

The unreal engine is well known for many popular games. It was created by EpicGames and supports Windows, macOS, Linux, IOs, Android, PS4, and the XboxOne. The most famous users are Capcom, Activision, Ubisoft, Microsoft Studios and even Nintendo uses this engine.

The unreal engine is free to use and you can distribute your project/game for free, but once it generates income, you will have to pay for it. You can find details in their licensing guide.[5] They adopted it to many scenarios and you have to pick that one that suits or you the best. Generally spoken, it is free and will be free for individuals, also then, when you publish your game.

The engine was developed with C++ but you will create your game with the UnrealScript language. The results of the existing games already speak for themselves. Besides a complex game implementation, you get blueprints for game implementation without coding, multiplayer support, visual effects (VFX) and particle systems, editors for materials, animation tools, tools for creating intermediate scenes, support for VR (Virtual Reality), XR (Cross Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) with corresponding tools, and tools for defining landscapes and open worlds.

A marketplace for components and media content and a modular plug-in system for extensions are provided. For effective use, you need tools for 3D modeling and audio recording, including audio mixing.

I recommend the engine for the use of 3D open-world games and if you know exactly how to build up a software architecture, knowing your language and being familiar with patterns and best practices.

RPG Maker: 2D-RPGs

RPGMAKER logo, all rights reserved

If you only want to develop 2D role-playing games for Windows, then RPG Maker is worth a look. They sell currently 5 different versions. [6] The complete list is enormous. They still keep every major version for sale in order to satisfy every customer. Because not everybody accepts changes as an improvement. [7] Stick to the standard versions with the suffix MV (windows/mac) for ~40$ or XP (windows only) for ~25$. These versions offer everything needed to simplify the creation of a 2D role-playing game. However, RPG Maker is not capable to create 3D games. To familiarize yourself with the supported game types, the manufacturer offers a selection of sample games.

You define game worlds via the map editor. The database gives you access to characters, skills, and equipment. You can define your own sprites and faces using the Character Generator. Once a game is defined, you export it to an executable program file. For example, the games To The Moon and Lisa were created with RPG Maker. Test versions are available on the web so you can get to grips with the product without buying it first. [8], [9] The internet is also full of tutorials.

I can recommend the RPGMaker if you got some pocket money and want to realize your dream RPG fast and with the least effort possible.

YoYo GameMaker Studio: 2D-Games

YoYo Games official logo, all rights reserved

GameMaker Studio from YoYo Games is an engine for developing 2D games. Besides a 30 days trial version, there are three commercial variants. The Creator edition (39 US dollars per year) allows game development for Windows and MacOs. But a purchase will only run on one OS and you can only export to on OS. That means if you want to support MacOs & Windows, you have to buy 2 licenses, a total of 78 US$ / year. The Developer Edition ($99, permanent license) supports major desktop systems (Windows, macOS, Ubuntu). Additional developer versions are also available for the web, mobile devices. If you are going to be a console developer, you have to pay the highest price. 799$ for the license to develop your game for PS4, XboxOne, and the Nintendo switch.
The engine itself has been used, for example, to implement the games Spelunky, Hyper Light Drifter, Nidhogg, Risk of Rain, Hotline Miami, and Undertale. [10]

Thanks to the drag-and-drop functionality of the development environment with integrated object and script editor, little coding is required at the source code level. The tool features a special laptop mode, a freely configurable development environment, a code library for events and actions, a product-specific programming language, layers for objects, brush-oriented drawing functions, animation support, and integrated sound mixing and debugging functions. GameMaker Studio also supports extensions delivered via an online marketplace.

I recommend YoYo GameMaker Studio studio as long as you got some pocket money and aren’t such an experienced developer. If you know what you are doing and want the most of your development done by an engine, you can get it with the least effort for a reasonable price.

Godot — A hidden piece

Godot game engine logo, all rights reserved

Godot is a free, open-source game engine that you can download to make your ideas become real. The engine supports both 2D and 3D games, and that is a good thing since it means it does not limit you to any specific game type.

When you launch Godot for the first time and start a project, you’ll notice the simple interface and everything you need is available right in front of you. This also means some people may need to get used to how Godot works because it doesn’t have the usual menu structures.

They offer demo projects to get you around the engine and the interface. These projects are useful to understand the unique features of the engine and to see what it offers.

To code in Godot, you’ll need to learn the GDScript language. GDScript is a scripting language with similarities to Python. If you are familiar with Python you will have no problems using Godot.

For more experienced users, Godot can also be fully written in C++, and since V3.0 also C# and virtually any language joined the party. This is a wonderful thing because it does not constrain users to a single coding language. You can jump right into game development as far as your coding knowledge has brought you.

Godot could be your next engine, especially if you want a lightweight engine and a simpler interface pushing you to start easily and right away. The learning of GDScript is in my opinion a low barrier. Choose a language if you want to make the most of your game by yourself and GDScript is as easy as Python. Python has the reputation of a beginner-friendly language.

I recommend Godot if you are familiar with python or want to learn GDScript from scratch and also a newbie to game engines. The unique concepts and menu structure of Godot won’t confuse you, because you aren’t used to any other game engine. If you are familiar with game engines or developing at all, Godot might be your number 1 choice. Not to be neglected, it is free.

Conclusion

It depends on you. If you want to create a game with the least amount of effort, take the RPGMaker, at least you want to create an RPG, everything else would not fit. Then comes in my opinion either the YOYOGames Engine or the Godot Game engine, where you have a low entry barrier. Having more control and make many coding parts by yourself take Unity. Unity provides several pre-configured and configurable components to help you with physics & lightning and much more. Want to make everything by yourself and you are an experienced developer, then you should take the Unreal Engine.

What comes on top is the amount of your purse. Some engines can be used entirely free and stay free (Godot), whereas others have to be paid once you earn a certain amount of money (Unity, Unreal Engine) and two of them have to be paid before you even made a cent if you even want to sell your game (YoYoGames Engine & RPGMaker).

I state that you test these ones, that attracted you the most in the first place and let yourself time (if you have it). Learn an engine and the language of it for the trial period or a month and if you see no progress, switch immediately. Either you come back because you enhanced your knowledge or you stick with the next tool. You will recognize when you found your tool of desire!

I am thinking of a change by myself after I wrote this article. My preference and long-term relationship apply to Unity. Normally I would say stick to the things you can work well with, but maybe Godot is a better place for my Projects. Well, we will see.

Software development and spreading adventurous knowledge is my passion! https://bit.ly/3hpJOFG

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