Making a Game: Tools of the Trade
In today’s day and age, making a game is easier than ever. Information is readily available, and places like reddit’s /r/gamedev communities allow even the newest game developer to access help on the fly. However, many new and aspiring devs always ask the same thing: “Where do I start? What is the best program to make games in?”
What is a game engine?
A game engine, simply put, is the very basic environment that a game is built within. Popular game engines today include Unity, GameMaker Studio, and Godot to name a few. However, there are dozens of game engines that are available to the average developer. The trick is finding one that works for you. In this article, we’ll go over some of the more popular game engines, as well as their pros and cons.
Price: Free (though you have to pay 5% royalties when you ship your game)
Pros: Incredibly powerful engine, VR compatible, hugely popular
Cons: Possibly overwhelming for new game devs, have to pay royalties
Epic Games’ Unreal Engine is one of the most popular engines for AAA titles today, offering superior graphics and VR support that is virtually unmatched. This is a super powerful engine for making high end games, and as such is not for the faint of heart. New game developers may find themselves easily overwhelmed, but with serious dedication (and maybe a few trips to StackOverflow), a game is possible.
Price: Free (personal license) up to $125/month (for teams)
Pros: 2D and 3D capabilities, plenty of documentation available, large community of users
Cons: IDE may be confusing for beginners, C#
Unity is one of the most popular engines on this list because of the superior flexibility of the platform. It is able to do 2D and 3D very well, and many great games have been made on the Unity engine. However, new game developers may feel intimidated by the IDE, which – to be fair – does have a lot going on. The primary language for Unity is C#, so unless you know your way around the C languages, Unity is a tough cookie to tackle right out of the gate.
Price: $99 (Permanent desktop license), additional modules available for additional cost.
Pros: Easy to read IDE, Documentation readily available
Cons: Incredibly expensive, programming can sometimes be confusing
GameMaker Studio is another popular game engine that has had many notable games (Undertale and Hotline Miami come to mind). It’s best used for 2D games, though there are 3D capabilities built into the engine. While the look of GameMaker’s IDE is incredibly easy to read for new developers, the programming part of GameMaker can often throw devs for a loop (especially if they’re familiar with other programming languages, such as C++/C#). GML is more akin to writing instructions in English, with a bit of coding jargon thrown in for good measure.
Language: GDScript, C++, C# (with Mono)
Pros: Absolutely free and open source, 2D and 3D capabilities, familiar IDE to users of Unity
Cons: Can be confusing at first for new developers
Like Unity, Godot offers a free alternative for new game developers. It offers a familiar environment if you’ve seen Unity, and attempts to streamline the process of game dev. Documentation is very well written, and there are more tutorials coming out to help Godot users get around the engine. If you’re new to game development and want a game engine that isn’t super difficult to use, Godot is definitely worth a try!
Pros: Easy for new devs to pick up, readily available documentation
Cons: Not very intuitive programming, can be a pain to get right, very recognizable “look”
It’s not hard to find a game dev who has worked with RPG Maker in some capacity. In many cases, RPG Maker was the first engine that many of us used. There is still an expansive userbase for it as well, which makes this a prime pick for new game developers who just want to make a game. However, the problem I find with many RPG Maker games is that they all share a very familiar “look” to them, which can make it difficult for your game to stand out.
Other game engines to check out
A small, open-source game engine that uses LUA to code their games. There is enough documentation to get started, as well as forums in case you get stuck.
This engine is great for making small games. I mean, small games. Developers are limited to tiny 8×8 sprites, a limited palette, and small file sizes.
If you want to make a visual novel, Ren’Py is the engine for you. This engine has a few games to its name (such as the popular Doki Doki Literature Club!).
Choose the engine fit for you
The best way to figure out if you like an engine is to try it! There are numerous free engines available, and for those that aren’t, such as GameMaker Studio, there is a free trial to get a feel for the engine. It also helps to have some knowledge of programming basics, though it’s not entirely necessary to make a game. Have fun, and happy coding!