By Kyle Kulyk
There’s a lot of choices when it comes to development tools for indie developers. As a new developer, we put a lot of thought into which commercial game engine we would license and choose to focus on going forward. There are a number of engines available that could appeal to indie developers and I thought I’d take a look at some of the top engines out there and offer my opinion based on the research I conducted. Itzy Interactive formed with mobile game development in mind and multiplatform development was important to us. We were looking for a “complete package” solution. Bear in mind, I haven’t had the opportunity to work on all the engines mentioned so some of my points are based off the opinions of other developers on various forums and there are certainly other engines available depending on the type of work you’re attempting.
Most are familiar with the Unreal Development Kit. It’s a proven engine that’s been used in a tonne of AAA titles, but how does it fare for indie developers? The first thing you’ll notice with UDK is the learning curve. It’s steep. Developers I’ve spoken to have all expressed this same sentiment, and my own experiences with UDK left me feeling that UDK seemed needlessly complicated. I had taken a few courses using UDK and while practice makes perfect, even when I became more familiar with UDK I found I simply didn’t like using it compared to some alternatives. The second strike is the need to learn Unreal Script. It’s a fairly straight forward language in my opinion however just that you need be confined to Unreal Script can take away from valuable development time when you’re starting off.
UDK is capable of delivering high quality graphics out of the box but it seems geared towards First Person Shooters (much like CryEngine). I’ve heard some complain about the difficulties involved in trying to bend UDK to other genres. FPS games developed with UDK also have a tendency to end up feeling like Unreal Tournament clones. UDK now supports iOS development in addition to Windows but don’t expect to port your projects over to anything else.
UDK is free for non-commercial use. Plan on selling your game and you’ll need to fork over $100 with no royalties to worry about until $50,000. After that, expect to pay a 25% royalty, which when you consider IOS development and the 30% Apple takes, can certainly add up. UDK is a bit of a sacred cow for some in the development community, but for indie developers it’s big, unwieldy and just limited in supported platforms. If you’re looking to add your shooter to a saturated shooter market, UDK may work for you but I wouldn’t recommend for smaller teams of developers.
Notable title: The Ball
http://www.stonetrip.com/The problems with Shiva3d for indie developers start with its lack of a free option and continues with its smaller community size. Shiva’s community simply isn’t there and for indies, that means few tutorials and support resources. It may be interesting to keep an eye on Shiva3d as it evolves but indies may want to give this one a pass for now. Shiva3d is very similar to Unity3D in terms of its available features and offers a variety of build options including Android, iOS, BlackBerry and Wii. Some developers have commented that Shiva’s layout is unwieldy but everything a developer needs is in there. Shiva offers good dynamic lighting (but no prebaked lighting solutions), pathfinding and a robust physics engine as well as LUA and C++ support. It’s also been reported to have lower memory requirements than Unity and tends to be a stable and fast if you can get past its confusing layout.
Unity3D also has a robust development community with excellent support from other users sharing scripts and tutorials. As well, the Unity Asset store has some excellent plugins that can shave weeks off development time and most are reasonably priced.
Although a free license is available, anyone serious about game development will want to shell out for the pro licensing to take advantage of more advanced features, from built-in pathfinding and physics to shadows, occlusion culling and for the ability to strip out all the unrequired assets when creating your builds. No other fees required. Unity Pro with the Android Pro and iOS Pro licences will set you back $4500, but if you keep your eyes open it’s not uncommon to see them offer the pro licenses for 20% off. Still, this is pretty steep for an indie developer starting off, but once you have these upfront costs out-of-the-way, that’s it. It’s free to try and there are cheaper licenses available. I would certainly recommend giving it a spin.
Notable title: Battlestar Galactica Online
Edit: In response to comments received, I apologize for including C4 in this discussion. As I was looking for all-in-one, game engine solutions that included mobile support, C4 was never seriously considered but thrown in to simply inform indie developers of it’s existence and provide them with a link for further research. I’m sure it has it’s advantages, but for the purpose of this blog it should have never been included as it’s not an all-in-one type game engine. For indies not interested in any type of mobile development, C4 may be a viable alternative.
The Torque3D engine was originally based off the Tribes 2 engine from over a decade ago and allows users access to the source code. While many fondly remember Tribes 2, unfortunately the general consensus seems that Torque hasn’t been able to keep pace, with many complaining about an unchanged engine and broken tools. Also, like UDK, Torque uses a non-standard scripting language – “Torquescript”. Generally, Torque is serviceable but most of its features met with a resounding “Meh” on the indie forums.
What Torque has going for it is some nice networking code and a low price, although be warned that Torque3d, Torque2d and Torque2dIOS are all separate programs with separate licenses. Also, expect to shell out for pretty much everything, from basic tool packs and editors to genre framework packs. You can easily end up paying hundreds extra for some basic features. Android support appears non-existent.
Notable title: Penny Arcade
By no means is this meant as a complete list of available solutions out there. Certainly there are other options available with a few geared towards specific types of development and developer skill level but I hope that if you’re considering becoming an independent game developer and are looking for a more complete solution, these summaries will help start you on your way.