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Top 5 Game Engines

Have you ever dreamed of creating your own game? Thanks to game development engines and numerous guides on how to create your own game and even monetize it, that dream became possible.

A game engine, also referred to as a gaming engine or game development platform, is a set of software tools and resources for developing video games. It covers everything from graphics rendering to sound, animation, artificial intelligence, and more. There are many game engines that can be used for the development of PC games, console games, and mobile games. Selecting the game development platform directly impacts your game's performance, visuals, user experience, and success. Whether you dream of creating a simple 2D platformer or developing a complex mobile strategy game, your chosen engine will determine your development path. And let's not forget about licensing options, which can further complicate the decision-making process.

Here's a list of the 5 most popular game engines that are used today, their features, and associated costs to help you select the best one for your next project:

1. Unity

Unity is one of the most used and famous development platforms, covering almost half of the gaming market. It supports different desktop, mobile, AR, VR, and console platforms and offers a robust set of tools and an extensive asset store with free assets. Unity has been the engine behind numerous successful mobile games, including Pokémon GO, Monument Valley, Alto's Adventure, Cuphead, and Beat Saber.

The platform is now used in industries beyond game development. It is used to create not only 3D and 2D games but also interactive simulations for entertainment, film, automotive, architecture, and other industries. Since Unity is one of the most used and famous development platforms, it has a large community, so users can find numerous helpful tutorials and guidelines and get community support very quickly. Combined with its easy user interface, it makes it a top choice for beginners. 

Features:

  • Cross-platform development: allows developers to create games for over 20 platforms, including mobile (iOS, Android), desktop (Windows, Linux, macOS), web (WebGL), VR/XL platforms (like Magic Leap, Oculus), console platforms (like PS4, PS5) and many more.

  • Powerful graphics engine: Unity provides powerful graphics capable of producing high-quality visuals. It can render detailed 2D and 3D graphics, realistic lighting effects, advanced shaders, and other visual elements contributing to a game's overall look and feel.

  • Extensive asset store: Unity's Asset Store provides a vast marketplace of pre-made assets, including tools, 3D animations, audio, textures, and plugins. It makes adding distinctive and engaging features to the game easy and saves time and effort in game development.

  • C# scripting: Unity supports C# scripting, allowing developers to code game logic and behavior with flexibility and ease.

Pricing: 

  • Free to use for students, individuals, and companies generating less than $100,000 annually, raised to $200,000 starting from Unity version 6.

  • Plus, for game developers to access core features and tools - $185/month

  • Industry for game developers looking for advanced features - $450/month

  • Enterprise for large-scale organizations with custom needs and requirements - price on request

2. Unreal Engine

Unreal Engine is another top-choice game development platform popular for its realistic graphics and advanced features. It has a user-friendly design and visual scripting system called Blueprints, which allows the development and modification of games even for non-programmers. The platform provides access to its full source code, enabling developers to understand the engine's internals and make deep customizations as needed. So, developing a complex game or optimizing performance may require knowledge of C++ programming. It is the driving force behind such popular games as Star Wars Jedi: Fallen 

Order, Infinity Blade, Fortnite: Save the World, and Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood.

Unreal Engine is suitable for developing any type of game — from console to mobile. While it is mainly used to develop 3D games, other industries, like the automotive, architecture, and film industries, also use Unreal Engine to create virtual sets and animated videos. The latest version of Unreal Engine 5 introduces several notable features. Among them is the Nanite virtualized geometry system, which allows rendering pixel scale and high poly counts effortlessly. Additionally, the engine incorporates Lumen technology, which autonomously handles the processing of light sources to enhance visual quality. One of its most advanced features is the MetaHuman Creator, enabling users to generate highly realistic human characters. Unreal Engine has a well-documented support base and a large and active community. 

Features:

  • Cross-platform development: Unreal Engine supports deployment to over 25 platforms, including mobile (iOS, Android), desktop (macOS, Windows, Linux), console (PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch), VR/XL platforms (like Magic Leap, HTC Vive, Oculus HoloLens 2) and more

  • Top-quality graphics and rendering capabilities: Unreal Engine is popular for its ability to produce photorealistic visuals, especially with the latest MetaHuman Creator for realistic human characters. It offers advanced rendering features like real-time ray tracing, global illumination, dynamic lighting, and Lumen technology for automatic light source processing.

  • Blueprint system: Unreal Engine Blueprints allow developers to create game logic and behavior without extensive coding knowledge.

  • High-quality animation tools: Unreal Engine offers a wide range of animation tools, starting from traditional skeletal animations and texture atlases to advanced features like Sequencer for cinematic content creation and an AI framework for programming complex character behavior.  

  • Extensive asset store: Unreal Engine's Marketplace provides a wealth of pre-made assets, such as 3D models, textures, audio files, templates, and plugins, that developers can use to accelerate their projects. The Nanite system fosters automatic asset optimization.

Pricing:

  • Free for individual users, students, educators, and most non-games companies making less than $1 million USD in annual gross revenue. After this limit, a royalty of 5% of the revenue applies.

  • Per Seat Program for non-game professionals and enterprise organizations (using Unreal Engine) for non-game work, such as Virtual Production, Architecture, VFX, etc. ), generating more than $1 million USD - $1,850 per seat/per year.

3. Godot

Godot is an open-source and free game development platform for creating 2D and 3D games. Being relatively new compared to two previously mentioned industry giants, it is gaining extreme popularity among developers because of its user-friendliness, lightweight design and no need for expensive licensing fees. Godot takes a unique approach to building the game - developers can create more complex and reusable scenes using the smallest building blocks, called nodes, such as sprites, cameras, lights, physics bodies, user interface elements, and more. Godot can create games for most platforms, such as desktop, web, and mobile, and can also be used to develop non-game software. It has been the engine behind such successful games as Cruelty Squad, Dome Keeper, Brotato, Gravity Ace, and Haiki.

The officially supported languages for Godot are GDScript, C#, and C++. GDScript is Godot's primary built-in scripting language, similar to Python and easy to pick up, even for beginners. Godot’s community has also created language binding tools for other programming languages. In Godot Engine, game elements, such as sprites, textures, positions, and sizes, are measured and defined in terms of pixels, which makes it especially good for 2D games, as they often rely on pixel-perfect positioning and rendering of sprites and other graphical elements. While Godot may not be as powerful as some commercial engines and may have a smaller, although fast-growing community, it still offers robust features and a supportive community. The platform boasts its documentation, which is clean and of a very high quality. 

Features:

  • Cross-platform capabilities: supports deployment to numerous platforms, including mobile (iOS, Android), desktop (macOS, Windows, Linux), web (HTML5), and VR/XR platforms (like HTC Vive, Valve Index, and Oculus). It can also run on consoles (like Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4), although consoles are not officially supported. 

  • Completely free and open-source gaming engine: licensed under the permissive MIT License, Godot Engine allows developers to access, modify, and distribute the engine's source code without any cost or restrictions, use the engine for any purpose, including commercial projects, and retain full ownership of their games.

  • Scene editor and node-based system: In Godot, scenes are built with a node-based system, where each node represents a specific game element, such as sprites, lights, or UI components. This system offers flexibility in organizing and structuring scenes and reusability across scenes, streamlining game development. 

  • Animation Tools: Godot Engine provides a suite of animation tools for creating dynamic and immersive game animations. These tools include support for skeletal animations, animation blending, inverse kinematics (IK), and more.

Pricing: Free.

4. CryEngine

CryEngine is the game engine rendering the most advanced graphics and visuals for realistic game development. It is one of the most powerful engines on the market and supports many platforms. However, it still doesn't support mobile platforms (mobile is currently in development). The platform is an engine behind such popular games as Hunt: Showdown, Kingdom Come: Deliverance, The Climb, Crysis 3, Ryse: Son of Rome, and Robinson: The Journey. According to anonymous reports, CryEngine was licensed and reworked by Amazon to create Amazon Lumberyard.

CryEngine has a reputation for being especially good at photorealistic games or, in other words, great visuals and at first-person games (especially shooters). In addition, it provides access to the source code, so developers can modify the engine to their needs. There is also a marketplace with plenty of assets developers can use for the projects. However, CryEngine has more limited documentation and tutorials, and its development community is smaller, although still active and supportive, compared to other engines in our list, so it may have a steeper learning curve, especially for beginners.

Features:

  • Cross-platform development: allows developers to create games for numerous platforms, including desktop (Windows, Linux), web (HTML5), and VR/XR platforms (like HTC Vive, OSVR, PSVR, and Oculus), and consoles (Xbox One, and PlayStation 4). Mobile is in development. 

  • Powerful Sandbox game editor: Sandbox game editor offers tools that enable rapid iteration during development. All the development features of a CryEngine game can be produced, edited, and played immediately with the “what you see is what you play” (WYSIWYP) system. 

  • High-fidelity graphics and visuals: CryEngine is most popular for its high-fidelity graphics and advanced rendering techniques, including real-time global illumination, dynamic lighting and shadows, advanced particle effects, and physically-based rendering (PBR). 

Pricing:

Use of the platform is free with the first  €/$5,000 of annual revenue per project is royalty-free. After this limit, a royalty of 5% of the revenue applies.

5. GameMaker

GameMaker is a beginner-friendly game engine widely used for 2D game development. It offers a visual drag-and-drop interface and a scripting language called GML (GameMaker Language) for developing more advanced games that could otherwise not be possible via visual programming features, making it accessible to users of all skill levels. From 2016 to 2022, GameMaker software was branded as GameMaker Studio 2. In 2022, it was simplified to GameMaker to mean the latest version of the game engine. Some popular games with the GameMaker engine behind them are Undertale, Hotline Miami, Chicory: A Colorful Tale, Katana Zero, Nuclear Throne, Forager, and many more.

GameMaker is primarily intended to make games with 2D graphics. It supports various types of 2D graphics, including raster graphics, vector graphics (via SWF), and 2D skeletal animations (via Spine integration). While GameMaker Studio does offer functions for handling 3D graphics through functions like vertex buffers and matrix manipulation, it's not as robust as its 2D features.  

Features:

  • Cross-platform compatibility: Games created with GameMaker can be deployed to multiple platforms, including desktop (Windows, macOS), web (HTML5), consoles (Xbox XS, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4 & 5), Mobile (iOS and Android) and more. 

  • Drag-and-drop visual scripting: GameMaker provides a visual drag-and-drop interface, allowing developers to create game logic and behavior without extensive coding knowledge.

  • GML scripting language: GameMaker also supports GML, a scripting language specifically designed for game development. It is very easy to learn and suitable for both beginners and professionals. GML allows developers to create more complex gameplay mechanics and customize their games more extensively.

  • Asset Marketplace: GameMaker Studio has an asset marketplace where developers can find and purchase assets such as sprites, animations, sound effects, and scripts to enhance their games.

Pricing:

  • Free for noncommercial, non-console projects

  • Professional for commercial usage—$99.99 one-time purchase (the previous indie subscription tier was eliminated in favor of this one-time licensing fee).

  • Enterprise for export to Console - $79.99/month

Conclusion:

Choosing the right game engine is a crucial step in the game development process. The platforms mentioned above are the top choices for most game developers. Unity and Unreal Engine are famous for their versatility and power, CryEngine for advanced graphics capabilities, Godot is absolutely free and ideal for beginners, and GameMaker is the best for developing 2D games. When choosing the best game engine for your next project, consider your budget, game type, preferred programming languages, and target platforms (e.g., desktop, mobile, console).

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Maryna Kharchenko

05/13/2024

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