Just as video games are diverse, so too are the game engines we use to make them. The act of beginning the development process for a video game is not a commitment to be taken lightly. Depending on the scope of the game or the number of people beginning this journey with you, there are a lot of important factors to consider in order to begin the process effectively. What game engine you use can often have a tremendous influence on your team’s ability to move forward.
To help you make that choice and analyze which engine might be best for you, here are six simple but crucial questions to ask yourself before choosing a game engine.
1. What’s My Timeframe?
What kind of timeframe are you working with? Any limitations, external or internal?
Asking yourself about the timeframe you are expecting or even hoping for is important as it leads to other kinds of questions involving the commitment that you are prepared to make. In order to take advantage of the full tools at your disposal, some engines require more time and energy spent than others. This is especially true for some of the more heavy-duty industry engines like Unity, Unreal, or CryEngine which may also require newcomers to endure a more extensive learning curve.
If you believe that a shorter time frame is what you’re looking at, some of the more focused engines like Gamemaker Studio or Construct 2 are worth further exploration. But, as I’ll discuss further down, these engines have their own limitations.
2. How Big is My Team?
Is this a solo project? If not, do you know who your team is and what they’ll be able to provide?
Some engines produce quicker results for solo developers than others. Gamemaker Studio, Construct 2, and RPG Maker are good examples of this. For engines like Unity, Unreal, and CryEngine, these engines can be used to develop without the help of a team, but the resources and knowledge required to proceed forward are considerable. These tools are more powerful and robust, but that means that it may be easier to use them with added help.
Online tutorials can be extremely effective sources for free education and can be found covering nearly all game engines that are out there. For some of the more extensive engines, there is a plethora of official documentation, much of which is freely available at each engine’s respective studio website.
If your team is lacking the right skills, many engines feature their own content marketplaces for users to find, download, and purchase pre-made assets. These assets range from models and animations, to particle effects and shaders, and even to sound effects and music.
3. What’s My Budget?
How much money do you available for this project? How much are you willing to spend?
Some engines require significant investment in order for developers to truly reap the benefits. In fact, the engine, itself, may need to be purchased before development can even start, as is the case with RPG Maker. Other engines, like Gamemaker Studio and Unity, have a basic free version, but hold back a lot of their most powerful features for paying users only. Unreal Engine 4 provides an assortment of powerful features for free but may request compensation if you release your game commercially. CryEngine boasts access to all of its features and full commercialization, 100% royalty free, for $10 a month.
Beyond the initial engine features, additional payment may be needed to take advantage of online marketplaces or freelancing. Game engine asset stores like the Unreal marketplace or the Unity asset store feature an assortment of new and useful creations that are being developed by fellow users on a regular basis. Free content exists, but is rarely available. Other sites like TurboSquid, Pexels, or Textures.com may feature additional free 2D and 3D assets for your purposes, while sites like Soundcloud and FreeSound.Org may provide free sound and music.
Just be extra careful to confirm whether the assets are free for commercial use. Some may be free to purchase, but may also require permission from the original creator or credit in your final product.
4. Am I Good at Programming?
How comfortable are you with programming?
A game is nothing without mechanics and interactivity. And that means programming. For many individuals, the desire to make a game may be stalled by an inability or disinterest in coding. If a weak proficiency in programming is holding you back, note that many engines have incorporated visual scripting platforms that can be used instead.
These node-based interfaces empower developers with the full level of capabilities you would have in a normal programming setting. Instead of hard coding pages and pages of statements in a specific programming language and syntax, developers can instead focus more on simple cause-effect relationships and logic flow.
Unreal Engine, CryEngine, and Construct 2 all feature visual programming platforms that enable users to program full experiences without hard coding, but each platform differs in its user interface. Unity also features a visual scripting platform, but it is only available to those who purchase the pro version of Unity. RPG Maker features a variety of eventing and database windows specially designed to cater to RPG Maker’s niche medium.
5. What Genre is My Game?
What genre or combination of genres is my project going to embody?
Speaking of niche mediums, several engines are better suited toward specific genres of games over others. A standard top-down pixel RPG is exactly what RPG Maker is built for, and its interface accelerates development of these kinds of games, exponentially. Construct 2 can be used to create a variety of different things, but 2D Platformers are often said to be the engine’s bread and butter. Unity and Unreal can absolutely be used for 2D Games, but the majority of their functionality is in better service to 3D environments and complex actor movements.
Now, a big part of this is more so defined by the amount of knowledge, experience, and time you have available to you as a developer, but it is still an important question to consider before choosing the engine that’s right for you.
If you are unsure, I would recommend looking at what kinds of games are most often created with each engine. An even better method would be to identify what kind of games are most often created within the online tutorials for each engine. Tutorials are designed to teach you basic concepts with basic results, so understanding what kind of projects are kind of treated as the ‘default’ game with each engine can be very useful.
6. How Big is My Scope/What Platform am I Releasing On?
What is the intended finished product going to look like?
One of the most complex things a developer has to deal with is the exact thing most people usually don’t think about when deciding to embark upon their first game. Making the actual game is really only half of the job. The other half involves optimization, balancing, and debugging.
With this in mind, it’s important to consider what the scope is of your game, as well as what the target platform is for the finished product. The heavier duty engines like Unity, CryEngine, and Unreal are going to be better at handling larger projects and more data. But, this also means that the optimization process can be more intricate and the amount of memory that will be needed from your computer is increased.
Additionally, it’s important to ask yourself what the target platform is for your final product. PC is good for almost all engines, whereas console games, specifically, are better suited for Unreal, Unity, and CryEngine. Web-based games and mobile apps might be best suited for Construct 2 or Gamemaker, but again, all these engines can be used for multiple target platforms. Knowing your target platform is essential for the later phases of development and packaging.
It’s Dangerous to Go Alone. Take One of These…
In almost all cases, you’ll learn a tremendous amount with any engine you choose. Don’t be too scared to try out something new or take a chance on a program you’ve never heard before.
At the same time, however, follow up with more research. As I stated before, these engines differ in a lot of places. But with the right experience, dedication, and creativity, they can all be powerful tools to accomplish far more than what we see on the surface. It all really comes down to what you’re looking for, what you’re hoping to get out of the process, and what kind of process you want to experience.