Game-Development Engines for 2016

XCOM 2

This week, Amazon unveiled Lumberyard, a free game-development platform with tight connections to not only the AWS cloud, but also the Twitch live-streaming network.

Will the new platform attract game developers? That’s a question Amazon wants answered in the affirmative, given its designs on the game industry as a whole. Over the past few years, the e-commerce giant has started up gaming studios, launched the Fire TV with gaming support, and even designed a controller. But developers have a lot of options out there for their software-building needs.

For smaller developers, choice of platform may boil down to cost. For example, use of the powerful Unreal engine not only costs a certain amount per month, but also a chunk of a finished game’s royalties. In this context, Amazon may seize an advantage by offering an extensive suite of tools for free.

It’s also a question of ecosystem support: the more prominent game-development platforms, including Unity, are moving to embrace VR in a big way, which could sway things for those developers who want to build for Oculus and other platforms. The more versatile the platform, the more likely it is to attract widespread developer use.

Unreal

One of the older game-development platforms at 17 years young, the Unreal engine was meant for building first-person shooters (including the ultra-popular Unreal Tournament). Like many of the other game-development platforms on this list, the current version features not only a variety of tools for game-building, but also access to the C++ source code. As the years have passed, developers have put Unreal to innovative use, using it to build games as complex as X-COM 2 (above).

Unreal operates on a subscription basis; developers who want access to the platform will need to pay $19 per month, in addition to a royalty on any commercial products they build. As with many things in the game-development world, this is something of a double-edged sword: while the subscription model affords indie developers access to a powerful toolset, the idea of paying out a portion of revenue to Unreal creator Epic Games—5 percent royalty after the first $3,000 in sales per product per quarter—probably doesn’t sit well with many of them.

Amazon Lumberyard

For those developers who already rely on Amazon for their cloud-computing needs—including Amazon EC2, DynamoDB, and S3—Lumberyard facilitates that connection, thanks to the platform’s tight integration with AWS SDK for C++.

Those developers who like customizing platforms to fit their specific needs will also appreciate how Amazon opened Lumberyard’s native C++ source code. The visualization tools are based on CryEngine, allowing for the rendering of 3D environments.

Anyone who wants to use Lumberyard for purposes other than game-making, though, prepare for a bit of disappointment: Amazon forbids the use of the platform for anything that connects to life-critical or safety-critical systems such as “automated transportation systems.” The one exception, according to the service terms, is the zombie apocalypse:

“However, this restriction will not apply in the event of the occurrence (certified by the United States Centers for Disease Control or successor body) of a widespread viral infection transmitted via bites or contact with bodily fluids that causes human corpses to reanimate and seek to consume living human flesh, blood, brain or nerve tissue and is likely to result in the fall of organized civilization.”

They’re kidding with that one. We hope. Although the idea of using a gaming-development platform to build world-saving software is pretty cool, too.

Unity

Introduced more than ten years ago as a game-development platform for Apple’s OS X, the Unity game engine now supports a broad gaming ecosystem, including Xbox, PlayStation, Oculus Rift, Windows, and mobile operating systems such as iOS and Google Android. Developers can use C# or Boo (which is similar to Python) to build within Unity. Like Unreal, Unity is offered on a subscription basis.

CryEngine

As mentioned above, in the context of Amazon’s Lumberyard, CryEngine is favored among some developers for its rendering capabilities. It’s on a subscription model, costing $9 per month; there’s also the “full” commercial license, which adds support from Crytek (the platform’s creator) along with access to source code.

Crytek sells its platform on cost: unlike some of its competitors, it doesn’t ask for a chunk of developer royalties. Prominent games built using the platform include Homefront: The Revolution, a combat game, and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

Corona SDK

A platform featuring a massive API library and tools for mobile-game development (supported operating systems include iOS, Android, and Windows Phone), Corona SDK is based on OpenGL 2.0. An “enterprise” version costs either $79 or $199 a month per seat.

Image Credit: 2K Games

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