A game engine is a framework that facilitates game development, using a range of tools designed for game development. Some game engines may call these tools nodes, others may call them APIs, but they all work together to enhance your game development experience.
The last decade has seen a massive increase in both video gamers and the amount of time spent playing video games. So, there’s undoubtedly a lively market for new and exciting video games. If you have a development background, a small budget, and a great game idea—but don’t know where to start—you’re in the right place.
According to Unity Technologies, 71% of all mobile games use its engine, creating a total of five billion downloads per month of apps built with Unity. This game engine is perfect for beginners as it has a learning resource center that’s equipped with tutorials, projects, courses, and live training workshops to get you from beginner to pro in no time.
Unity provides 3D game development that’s done in real-time. Several subscription options are available, but Unity Personal is the only free one. This subscription type provides access to all the engine features, along with the cloud-based service ones. The main drawback to Unity Personal is that you can’t remove Unity’s splash logo from your game until you upgrade to one of the paid versions.
As of Q1 2022, Unity supports installation for Windows and macOS, with preview support for Linux. However, to install and use Unity on any one of these operating systems, a set of requirements need to be in place.
For example, to run Unity on Windows, you’ll need to have operating system version 7 (SP1+), 10, or 11. For macOS, the operating system needs to be High Sierra 10.13+; for Linux, the operating system needs to be Ubuntu 20.04, Ubuntu 18.04, or CentOS 7. Click here to get the complete system requirements for the latest stable version of Unity (version 2021.2).
After you’ve met the system requirements, you can navigate to Unity’s download page, where you can complete the three steps required to get the game engine up and running. These three steps include:
- Downloading the Unity Hub.
- Selecting your Unity version.
- Starting your project.
Unreal Engine is a development engine that prides itself on being one of the more advanced real-time 3D creation tools. Yet it’s great for beginners and you’ll even find a learning resource section on its website.
In addition to being a game engine, Unreal Engine also creates other real-time applications such as architectural visualization, automotive visualization, and linear films, among others. Unreal Engine has three specific licensing agreements that depend on how you plan to use the tool. These license agreements include:
- Creator license
- Publishing license
- Customized license
The creator license is completely free and has no royalty attached. The publishing license is free, but it does require 5% royalty when your game “becomes successful”. The customized license is the option to work with Unreal Engine to create a licensing agreement just for you.
Each license agreement provides unlimited access to all the Unreal Engine features. Unreal provides full access to its C++ source code, giving game developers unfettered access to customize or even expand the Unreal Engine code.
It has an Unreal Editor tool, which is a development environment that allows collaboration of all members in a game development team. It does this through multi-user editing. Like all the top game engines, Unreal Engine provides some high-quality world-building, animation, rendering, and gameplay features.
Godot is a free-to-use open-source game engine. Godot’s main selling point is that it uses common tools, which makes it ideal for beginners. This engine has a visual editor that allows you to create both 3D and 2D UIs and enables game developers to do live editing.
Godot has hundreds of nodes developed to meet your game development needs. However, if the ones available don’t sufficiently meet your needs, you have the option of creating custom nodes. Godot works well on multiple platforms, such as Windows, macOS, and Linux. The engine also allows multiple-platform deployment.
Along with its flat learning curve, Godot’s main selling point is that it offers game developers more scripting options than its competitors. Some of these options include:
- GDScript (which is much like python)
- Visual script
Defold is not only a completely free game engine; it’s also open source. So, game developers have the option of customizing the code of this game engine to their preference—and even the ability to tap into a diverse collection of features made by other community members.
The Defold Foundation promises to always keep the engine free and relies on the donation of community members. This engine creates 2D and 3D games with a special focus on performance. It has a Visual editor and code editor that allows game developers to write their game logic in the Lua scripting language.
Defold has an easy learning curve, and it also has a learning resource section on its main website, which is quip with tutorials and manuals to get you started. Most of the Defold documentation is available in the form of manuals, making it much easier for beginners to work with.
Solar2D (formerly known as Corona) is an open-source game engine. As the name suggests, Solar2D creates amazing 2D games using the Lua scripting language. This game engine is completely free and has a large resource of guides and tutorials that are perfect for beginners.
Solar2D has hundreds of APIs for your game development purposes, but it also facilitates the use of third-party features through plugins. Solar2D creates cross-platform games for systems such as:
Other Free Game Engines You Can Use
These free game engines are ideal for beginners because of their popularity, the features they provide, and their flat learning curve. However, depending on the game you intend to build or even what you intend to do with that game after build, one game engine might be more suitable than another. For example, if you want to build a 2D game, Solar2D or Godot might be a better option than Unity.
This is a solid list of some of the best free game engines in the world, but it is in no way exhausted.
Looking for a way to start coding your own games? Phaser could be the game development framework you’re looking for.
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