The game-development world has undergone a seismic shift in the past few years. Rather than charge an (often large) up-front fee for their respective toolsets, many publishers of game-building software have reverted to a subscription model. For indie developers, that shift opened up access to some pretty heavy-duty tools. Here are some of the most popular options available:
The Unreal engine has a long and storied history. First developed by Epic Games some 17 years ago, the software was originally intended for building first-person shooters (such as the popular Unreal Tournament and the upcoming LawBreakers, the latter seen above). The latest edition, Unreal 4, features a variety of tools and access to the C++ source code on a subscription basis.
Those interested in building games using Unreal will need to pay $19 per month, plus a royalty on any commercial products they build. The subscription model has democratized things somewhat, giving indie developers access to powerful tools previously affordable only by larger gaming studios. At the same time, though, some developers have publicly expressed their displeasure over having to hand over a portion of their revenue.
The Unity game engine, introduced a decade ago as a development platform for Apple’s OS X, now supports Windows, PlayStation, Xbox, Oculus Rift, Gear VR, and other platforms. Its scripting capability is built atop Mono (basically, an open-source implementation of Microsoft’s .NET Framework); when working with it, developers can use C# or the Python-reminiscent Boo. Games built using Unity include Angry Birds, Dead Trigger, and Superhot.
A few years ago, Unity Technologies, the builders of the Unity engine, moved aggressively into the mobile-game space; as a result, the platform also supports iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Tizen. As with Unreal, Unity is now offered on a subscription basis.
Want to build mobile games? Corona SDK offers a huge API library (in addition to other tools, such as a simulator) for building in iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Windows, Mac OS X, and Kindle (!). The graphics engine is based on OpenGL 2.0. While the SDK is free, an enterprise-ready version is available for either $79 or $199 a month per seat, depending on options and tools.
Another mobile-centric game-development platform (and the foundation of such hits as Plants vs. Zombies), Marmalade allows developers to code in C++ or Luna, add assets, and simulate the game before publication.
A game-development platform for PC, PlayStation, Wii, and Xbox, CryEngine is known for its rendering capabilities—useful when you’re a developer who wants to build and animate vivid characters. It costs $9 per month on a subscription basis, unless you want to go for the full commercial license, which comes with support from Crytek (the platform’s creator) and heavy-duty features for long-term development.