Game developers require a platform that provides an expression of creativity and performance without additional plugins or extra purchases. While there are hundreds of cool game engines on the market, few are as popular with new developers as those rendering cross-platform support, using artificial intelligence (AI), and creating immersive augmented and virtual reality experiences.
The following list of indie game engines use the most powerful technologies, have the most vibrant online communities for support, and provide the most essential tools and workflows to take your final output to the next level.
1. CryEngine V
Crytek’s CryEngine V is where this developer remastered one of the gaming community’s most beloved FPS titles: Crysis. Since Crysis titles are known for having impressive graphics, especially when first released, CryEngine boasts numerous features for creating appealing visuals such as Area Lights, DirectX 12 support, Physically Based Rendering, and 3D HDR Lens Flares. CryEngine’s next-level visual tools are evident in titles developed even in the software’s previous versions, such as CryEngine I, in which the Far Cry series was developed.
The latest version of CryEngine supports Windows, Linux, PlayStation4, Xbox One, Oculus Rift, open-source Virtual Reality, PlayStation VR, and HTC Vive. According to Crytek, support for mobile software development is underway.
CryEngine is 100 percent free to use but implements a royalty system. It works this way: the first $5,000 of annual revenue per project is royalty-free, then 5 percent of annual revenue exceeding the threshold is paid to Crytek.
2. Unreal Engine 4
Whether your game is meant to be played in Windows, Linux, macOS, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Android, iOS, or even the latest Oculus, Hololens 2, Samsung Gear, or Google VR, Unreal Engine by Epic Games provides an unmatched experience. Unreal Engine is by far one of the most popular gaming software and has been around since 1998 powering hundreds of popular games, including the Batman Arkham series, Dragon Ball Z, Fortnite Battle Royale, and Call of Cthulhu.
There is only one SDK to develop all the applications. Unreal Engine uses its proprietary gaming language loosely based on Java, but according to the software developers, you don’t have to “touch a line of code,” as everything is taken care of using toolsets. The simulations and advanced APIs leave rich visuals and photosets that are the best in the gaming business.
Having been in the business for so long, Epic has learned a lot from its mistakes. Doing so has allowed it to create the closest thing you have to an error-free, bug-free experience.
Unreal Engine also uses open platforms and a brilliant support system based on tickets as well as a vibrant community to help you in any sticky situation. It is also cross-compatible with other gaming engines such as Unity or Amazon Lumberyard.
The gaming engine is free to use. Once you publish a game, you pay them 5 percent royalties after the first $3,000 per game in a calendar quarter. This is good for someone who just started as a game developer. You don’t have to worry too much about costs, and there is only one catch: access to Unreal’s marketplace is not free.
Unreal Engine 5 Early Access
In 2020, Epic Games revealed Unreal Engine 5 (UE5). UE5 Early Access currently supports the same platforms as Unreal Engine 4 (UE4), such as next- and current-generation consoles, Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android. However, new UE5 features, such as Nanite and Lumen, are only supported on next-generation consoles and Windows as of this writing.
Nanite and Lumen are two key features that make UE5 distinctive and better for creating immersive in-game worlds. Nanite allows you to import cinema-quality source art with millions of polygons and utilize them multiple times without sacrificing frame rate. Lumen, on the other hand, lets you create realistic scenes where indirect lighting adapts to changes in direct lighting. For example, Lumen’s solution is manifested in scenes when an in-game world’s shadows change angles throughout the day.
Aside from Nanite and Lumen, UE5 also features a new World Partition system, One File Per Actor system, Data Layers, Control Rig, Pose Browser, and MetaSounds, among others.
According to Epic Games, they’re aiming to ship UE5 to the public in early 2022. But if you can’t wait, try UE5 Early Access by visiting its official page and downloading the software.
Supporting more than 25 platforms, Unity is a highly-ranked gaming engine that prides itself on being “the world’s best real-time development platform.” It provides the behind-the-scenes action for some of the most engrossing and imaginative role-playing games, including Escape from Tarkov, Osiris: New Dawn, In the Valley of Gods, Harold Halibut, and Sonder.
Unity uses high-definition rendering pipelines to help develop superb graphics that can run on any GPU. The scalability is at another level, as you can build for the most modern consoles and VR headsets at the same time you are optimizing the performance for lower-load devices. It also has post-processing features to remove blurs, improve color tones and fix chromatic aberrations.
While individual users can use Unity for free, the annual Teams subscription plans start at $399 per person. All the games you end up developing are royalty-free.
4. Amazon Lumberyard
Amazon Lumberyard, a fairly new game engine (launched c.2016), is a continuation of CryEngine, which used to power intensive games, including Far Cry, Sniper: Ghost Warrior, and Enemy Front. Amazon has improvised the features to support integration with AWS and hundreds of game-ready assets that can import files from Adobe Photoshop to Autodesk Maya. It also uses its proprietary animation editor to create compelling characters as well as a feature-rich sound engine.
You only have to create an AWS account, and the entire game development is free except for one catch: you need an AWS subscription (pricing varies). Other than that, Lumberyard is free to use, and you “don’t” have to share royalties with Amazon. In terms of features, compatibility, and support, Lumberyard is second to none.
5. GameMaker Studio 2
GameMaker Studio 2 is a 2D game development software from YoYo Games. It’s famed for being the home of games such as Undertale, Shovel Knight, Hyperlight Drifter, Katana Zero, and many other titles. It supports software development for Windows, macOS, Ubuntu, PlayStation4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, iOS, Android, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Raspberry Pi, and HTML5.
GameMaker Studio 2 houses Geography Markup Language and its Drag and Drop visual coding tool to help 2D game developers.
Its key features include its Room Editor, which allows you to add and remove rooms and integrate them into camera controls and design tools. Its Workspaces feature lets you customize and organize your project through spaces where you create and view assets, write code, and design rooms. Lastly, its Object Editor allows you to create and define the behavior of objects inside each room. Using this tool, you can make an element visible, solid, or persistent.
You can use GameMaker Studio 2 for free or upgrade to a Creator, Indie, or Enterprise subscription starting at $4.99 per month.
Are you an indie game developer with a small budget? AppGameKit is a no-frills development solution that supports the best games you can build on Visual Editor. For an all-inclusive deal at $80, you get one of the easiest tools in the market for developing games on iOS, Android, Windows PC, Xbox, Linux, Raspberry Pi, HTML5 browsers, and more.
While the interface is simple to use, AppGameKit supports advanced tools, such as Vulcan Rendering, OpenGL rendering, AR & VR, and tons of other features. There are no hidden costs.
7. Godot Engine
Godot Engine is a free and open-source 2D and 3D game engine. It provides developers with an extensive range of basic development tools without the fluff of feature-heavy software. It also lets you create custom tools and use its visual editor for improved engine navigation.
However, the best part of Godot Engine is that everything you create using the engine is royalty-free, and you have full ownership of everything that’s in your project.
So if you’re looking to start your game development project and want to make sure you get 100% of everything you worked for, Godot Engine is a great software pick.
Godot Engine also encourages people with the necessary knowledge to help them fix and create features in the software. If you happen to enjoy what Godot Engine has to offer, you can contribute through coding and documentation. You can also contribute by reporting issues within the engine.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What kind of PC do you need for game development?
The hardware you’ll need for game development depends on the type of game you’re planning to develop. If it’s a 2D game, the barrier for entry is low. If you have a low-to mid-spec gaming PC with a 4-core CPU, that should be enough to let you use 2D game development software without an issue.
However, if you have a 3D game development project planned, having more powerful hardware can help speed up rendering times, improve testing, and support a heavy workload during development.
If you have a specific game engine you want to try, navigate to their official website to find out their system requirements.
2. Do these game engines offer learning resources for beginners?
Most, if not all, game engines on this list offer free learning resources for different levels of game development expertise. You can find resources by visiting the official website of the engine of your choice.
There are also third-party free and paid courses that can teach you how to use specific game engines, with most of them on platforms like Udemy.
3. What are the best free and third-party resources for coding?
There are thousands of content creators that offer content on learning or improving your coding skills. Since this is a necessary skill to develop a game or any other software, learning is essential. Check out this list of the best YouTube channels that offer coding resources.
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