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What game engine to use? A beginner game developer primer

One of the first things one needs to figure out when starting in the game industry, is what tools to use to start honing our craft as a game developer.

To that end, I have compiled a short list of game engines that comply with the following 3 rules:

  • Free: The game engine needs to be available for free to anyone with the desire to learn
  • Indie friendly: A beginning game developer should be able to use the game engine, and release a product that others can enjoy (in the case of a prospective employer, also assess!).
  • Good community support: Usually support from the game engine developer is not enough to give us a good start. Tutorials created by other users and online forum with good content (and a better search engine!) are vital for beginners

So without further ado, let’s get to the list:
(Click on the icon to see the embedded pictures)

Unreal Engine 3 Demo 

Unreal Engine 3: Perhaps the most used game engine in the world right now, about half of AAA titles in the world are created with it, and now with it’s free version (UDK), it has become a great tool set for any game developer. Just to give you an idea of what you can do with this engine: Gears of War. Batman: Arkahm Asylum. Mass Effect. That’s right.

  • Pros: Extremely optimized, the community is the best in the industry, with several lifetimes worth of video tutorials and free assets. Support and updates are also good: a monthly update keeps you in the loop with great tools being added every update, such as simplygon, speedtree, cascade, and other exclusive to Unreal Engine 3. Kismet provides with artist-level programming that a 5 year old kid could use.
  • Cons: License terms are mid-range: You can obtain a commercial license for 99$ and a 25% royalty after your first 50.000$ earned with the game, directly or indirectly. Now, if you are earning that kind of money as an upcoming game developer, I don’t think you will be complaining any time soon! The tool set is a bit… unfriendly, but it’s just a matter of getting used to its quirks.

Cryengine 3: By far the most beautiful game engine an indie developers can afford. Released very recently, it is extremely powerful, as attested by graphical masterpieces such as Crysis and Crysis 2. If you can not make your game pretty with this game engine, you should apply for a job at McDonald’s.

Cryengine 3 Demo 

  • Pros: Simply put, Cryengine 3 makes everything pretty. The artist-level programming in flowgraph is extremely powerful and simple. It includes Fmod for you sound designer out there, giving you the most powerful audio middleware tool in the world, and now with the inclusion of UI scaleform this is by far the most powerful engine available for an upcoming game developer. Easiest AI editing in the industry.
  • Cons: Crytek’s support of the free version of Cryengine 3 is lacking to say the least. Updates come far and between. There is still no export functionality so you can not release the game yet. Licensing terms are still being worked on.

Comparing Cryengine 3 and Unreal Engine 3 is like comparing an old man that has his stuff down, and an upcoming talented young man who has taken all the old man’s knowledge and can only go up.

Unity3D Demo 

Unity3D: The newcomer to the game engine discussion, it is a very affordable solution for the game developer, since its license is a one-time situation; once you acquire the license you don’t need to pay ever again, no matter how big your game becomes, or how many games you release. It is finally getting to showcase AAA graphics, and with its colaborations with Autodesk, it can become the next best thing.

  • Pros: Easy to use, with great community support. Best licensing options in the industry. Can export to both IOs and Android, which creates great opportunities for any game developer. If you are looking for a job, learning Unity3D is the way to go, since everyone seems to be using it nowadays (that is, if you don’t mind working on non AAA games).
  • Cons: Pretty much bare of tools. Unreal engine 3, and Cryengine 3 come with all kind of tools, from AI to nvidia physx control. In Unity3D, you have to create every tool or get it in middleware form.

In conclusion, there are many aspects to look at while choosing the engine for your next project. Many newcomers are using Unity3D as their main tool to create their indie games. Others are trying to break into the AAA industry by creating mods with Cryengine 3, or going the mobile way with an Unreal Engine 3 game for iPhone.

All in all, I advise you to try them all and have a basic knowledge of the three, and then choose whichever fits your goals as your main tool of choice. As of this writing they would be the following IMHO:

  • Unity3D: You want a job making games, or want to start a small company.
  • Cryengine 3: You want to work on the most groundbreaking AAA games, and nothing will stop you (because it will be hard!)
  • Unrealy Engine 3: A middle ground between the previous. Brings more job offers than Cryengine 3, with more power than Unity3D.

Finally, a list of link for you to start exploring the subject:

I look forward to read your comments!

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