Do you have a great idea for a game, but don’t have any experience in game development? You’re not alone. The gaming industry is constantly launching new games, and you will be surprised by how many are developed by people who are not experts in a particular programming language.
To convert your game idea from a design to a playable game, you will need to know programming languages such as C++ and C#. But you don’t need to know coding yourself to achieve this with today’s technology, where game engines allow you to develop a game without typing the code yourself.
Successful games have been developed using a game engine for years now. Total flexibility in game development is best with writing the code yourself, but a great game doesn’t need to be complex. Here is a summary of how game engines work and 4 of the best programs out there.
Navigating a Game Engine
The engine software helps you build the design architecture of a game without writing the code yourself. Simple functions, world-building physics, and character interactions are pre-programmed on the software, and some you need to do is tell the software where these functions belong.
For example, your main character needs to have rules and boundaries to work within the game. You can apply gravity, life, jumping and walking, shooting, and damage to the characters.
Some game engines are considered a “point-and-click” operation. Meaning you drag the rule to the character, and they are instantly programmed. You can make adjustments along the way if needed.
How It Works
A game engine has several components that work together to make your game… a game. Each has a general framework. You can thank the hundreds of game developers who came before you for this feature.
The framework essentially is code all games have in common. In the beginning, the framework had to be scripted from scratch every single time. Now with a game engine, the basics of a game have been saved to a database and are ready to be applied to your game.
The main components of a game an engine will help you build are:
- Main Game: Made up of storyline, character interactions, levels, and so on.
- Graphics: The engine will work with asset programs to build graphics in 2D or 3D.
- Audio: An asset program like Audacity integrates into the engine and applies it to the game.
Other key components a game engine will help you build are physics, artificial intelligence (AI), and networking (how online players interact with each other). The more complicated the game, the more asset programs you may need, but the top game engines will offer you the best choices in a marketplace.
Game Development Timeline
How long it will take you to develop a game through an engine will depend on how complicated the game is and how long you work on it. If you work a regular job and only set aside 2-3 hours of work on the game daily, it will take you a while.
Indie game development is a single person or small group of people working within a game engine to make a game. If your goal is to make a PC or console game, you are looking at years of work. The average game development time for a PC game is 3-5 years.
Game development for a phone game is much less. The style of game for a phone or tablet is more simple in design and easier to code. The time frame for a phone game is a few months to a year.
Testing & Final Development
More goes into a game than designing and writing the code. After the game has been developed, it will go through phases of testing. Assuming you want to release your game to a market, here are the major milestones in development:
- First Playable: The first phase of the game that allows for some gameplay. Some assets are in place, and the game can be played in sections. Large video games will be at this phase a year before the final release.
- Alpha: The next stage where the game can be played from beginning to end, and the assets are more complete. When in the alpha phase, features of the game may be changed based on feedback from testers.
- Beta: At this point, the game assets and features are complete. It’s ready to be further tested. The code is finalized, and the game no longer requires significant changes. From this point, minor bugs will be the remaining work. A game will be in beta 2-3 months before the final release.
- Gold: Also known as “release to manufacturing,” the game is in its final form and ready to be mass-produced, or released online.
Top-Rated Game Engines
The Unity Platform is the most widely used game and graphics engine in play today. The platform allows for great 2D or 3D world-building and animation. Work is reflected in real-time for your preview and can be shared across a whole team of developers and designers.
Building your game in Unity will allow the release of your game on a wide variety of platforms (20 total), including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo Switch.
The Unity platform is highly flexible. You can develop a game through a “drag and click” function or write your own code.
For the most features, you will need to pay for a premium subscription. But Unity does have two free plans that are great if you are learning how to build a game. The Student and Personal plans allow for the use of the platform and access to learning videos. The Student plan requires authentication, so you can’t fake your status with this plan.
All plans through Unity are royalty-free.
The Unreal Engine by Epic Games is an advanced game engine leading the way in high-quality 3D animation. The software also works in real-time and boasts the ability to make lifelike renderings. Unreal Engine is not as easy to use as Unity but does offer a 40-hour training course for free.
Unreal allows for the release across a wide variety of platforms and is free to use. The difference between Unreal and Unity is the licensing and royalties. Unreal requires a 5% royalty after your game becomes successful.
The Godot engine is an open-source game engine developed by MIT. It’s supported through a Patreon account and is completely free. The software can build 2D and 3D games and is great for basic game building.
This engine allows you to innovate without having to “reinvent the wheel.” Godot has hundreds of “nodes” to make building the game easy with a “drag and click,” or you can create a custom action. If you are beginning your game development journey, start with Godot to get your bearings.
The GameMaker: Studio 2 software from YOYO Games is the most user-friendly for those with no coding experience. It’s the ultimate “drag and drops” 2D game builder. This will not be the best software for a complex 3D game but will get you started on a smaller game before working up to a big game.
GameMaker does offer tutorials and a free trial for 30 days. The licenses available depending on which platform you intend to export your game to. Each platform will need its own license when you build with GameMaker. If you want to release it to all, it will get costly.
The best choice is the Developer permanent license for export to the web, desktop, or a mobile device. You will pay for each of the licenses individually, not as a package.
Programming languages are what make up the games we play today, from console games to cell phone games. You cannot have a game without code. Luckily, the generations of game developers who invented the field paved the way, making game development so easy anyone can do it. If you have a game design ready to go, then start building with game engine software.