Updated (April 27, 2015): This post has been updated with an additional game engine, updated links and new information that was outdated.
If you ever wanted to take your skill further into game development and game design, you will need to begin exploring the world of game engines. Game engines will provide you with the framework that game designers use to create games.
Make sure to check out all the tutorials within this series listed below:
Level Editors/Game Engines Series:
16 Recommended 3D Game Engines
"The core functionality typically provided by a game engine includes a rendering engine ("renderer") for 2D or 3D graphics, a physics engine or collision detection (and collision response), sound, scripting, animation, artificial intelligence, networking, streaming, memory management, threading, localization support, and a scene graph. The process of game development is often economized, in large part, by reusing/adapting the same game engine to create different games, or to make it easier to "port" games to multiple platforms." - (wikipedia.org/Game Engine)
Few examples of games and game engines used to create them are:
Games: Dota 2, Half Life 2 series, Counter-Strike: Source, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Left4Dead, Left4Dead 2, Portal 1 and 2
Game Engine: Source Engine wikipedia.org/Source
Game: Hitman Absolution
Game Engine: Glacier 2
Game: Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3, Need for Speed: The Run
Game Engine: FrostBite 2 wikipedia.org/wiki/Frostbite
Games: Mass Effect Series, Dishonored, Bioshock Infinite, Batman: Arkham Asylum and City and hundreds more
Game Engine: Unreal Engine www.unrealengine.com
Game: Crysis 2 and 3
Game Engine: CryEngine 3 www.crytek.com/cryengine
Not every game engine is available to download to try without paying for a license first. However there are many free game engines, open source engines and non-commercial versions that you could work with and download right now.
In this blog post I will provide you with options and links to few game engine, their features and download page so you can make a better decision on which one is right for you.
I limit the list to essential few game engines because they are:
- available to download right now for free (easy access to try and test)
- few are open source
- few I have used myself and recommend them
So, for those who are interested in going a bit further into game development, to explore new technologies to showcase your game environments in or just curious behind game engine technology; here are 16 suggestions of game engines you can get your hands on right now.
Here is the full list of game engines in this article:
- Unreal Engine 4
- UDK (Unreal Engine 3)
- CryEngine 3 SDK
- Source Engine
- C4 Engine
- Shive 3D
- Panda 3D
- Esenthel Engine
- iDTech 4
- Ogre3D (Rendering Engine)
- Irrlicht Engine (Rendering Engine)
Unreal Engine 4
Unreal Engine 4 is the new version of one of the most widely used game engines out there; the Unreal Engine. It features new interface, new material pipeline of physically-based shaders, Blueprint visual scripting, DirectX11 rendering, improved lighting and the list can go on. But you may want to check out all the features yourself.
Unreal Engine 4 is now offered as a free download. It did require a monthly subscription fee but that is no longer the case.
Features: Unreal Engine 4 features
Download: Download Unreal Engine 4
Unreal Engine 3
Unreal Engine 3 is the complete toolset to create your own games. It is a very widely used game engine in the industry. Unreal Engine is very versatile and has been used to create many triple A games such as: Batman: Arkham City, Gears of War Series, Borderlands Series. For a full list of Unreal Engine games go here: Wikipedia.org list of Unreal Engine games. Unreal Engine is one of my favorite engines to work with. UDK is a free educational version of the engine, with commercial license available if you want to take your project further and sell it.
Features: Unreal Engine features
Download: Download UDK
CryEngine 3 has been used in games such as Crysis 2, Crysis 3 and Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2. Just like Unreal Engine 3, CryEngine 3 is the complete toolset for game development. CryEngine 3 has been used as a benchmark for visual graphics for some time and it continues to push the limit what games are capable of. One of CryEngine's features is its ability to produce huge beautiful, highly detailed landscapes.
CryEngine 3 SDK is now on Steam and requires a monthly subscription service. You can also choose a full license but for independent game developers and hobbyist, Steam subscription will be enough.
You can still find a free version of CryEngine 3 SDK somewhere online. I believe the last free version was 3.5.8 but it is no longer being updated by Crytek. For new updates and new version of the game engine you will need to sign up for subscription service.
Free version of CryEngine 3 SDK is still available with all the necessary tools to start creation your own worlds or your own game.
Features: Cryengine3 features
Download: CryEngine 3 SDK download
Source Engine has been used very extensively in the modding community with hundreds if not thousands of mods available. Source Engine is a bit outdated, yet still very powerful. It has been used to create games such as Half Life 2 series, Counter-Strike: Source, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Left4Dead, Left4Dead 2, Portal 1 and 2. Each game has a huge community behind it with new content always being released. I love using Source Engine because of its games. You can get your hands on the engine by downloading any of Valve's released games on Steam. If you are interested in licensing Source for commercial project go here.
Eventually Source is going to get an update to Source 2 with unconfirmed and possible releases of Half-Life 3 and Left4Dead 3.
I myself can't wait for the day that happens.
Features: Source Engine Features
Download: Use Steam to download SourceSDK and level editors for each of Valve's games. See this tutorial.
Unity3D has been a very popular choice among developers. Full pledge game engine featuring everything you would need to create full 3d or 2d games with multi-platform support right out of the box. Easy engine to get into and begin using. Unity has a free indie version as well as commercial license version. Latest version of Unity offers DirectX 11 support.
Features: Unity3D features
Download: Download Unity3D
Leadwerks is an OpenGL, 3d game engine. It features deferred lighting system, Screen Space Ambient Occlusion which simulates real-time global illumination, advanced shaders, support for huge terrains and physics. Only engine on this list that does not offer a free version. Although it is set at a reasonable price.
Features: Leadwerks features
Download: Download Leadwerks
Originally Torque was developed for 2001 FPS shooter, Tribes 2. Torque is an open source game engine and has been an independent dev favorite for quiet some time. Some features include a world editor, Collada support, per pixel dynamic lighting, normal and parallax occlusion mapping, reflections, sky system, physX, multiple platform publishing and access to source code.
Features: Torque3D features
Download: Download Torque3D
Blender is a free and open-source 3D content creation suite. It includes tools for animation, compositing, 3D modeling, uv unwrapping, texturing, rigging and skinning, fluid and smoke, particle system, physics and rendering. It also has a built-in game engine. The game engine is written in C++ and includes support for Python scripting and OpenAL 3D sound. I like Blender because it is the only free alternative that I know of to Maya/3dsMax as a modeling/animation software.
Features: Blender features
Download: Download Blender
Neoaxis has all the features of a modern engine such as advanced material and shading support, real-time shadows, built-in Nvidia physX and current/next-gen rendering. It comes with complete pipeline SDK, including a map editor. When you download the free educational version of the engine it comes with example files for first person shooter with multiplayer support, real-time strategy and 3rd person shooter. There is a free non-commercial SDK available to download.
Neoaxis 3D engine has now complete free, you can read more about here.
Features: Neoaxis features
Download: Download Neoaxis
C4 Engine is full 3d game engine featuring dynamic lighting, stencil and cascaded shadows, advanced shader support, terrain and scene management such as portals, occlusion and level of detail. There is a standard and professional editions available. As well as free academic version to download.
Features: C4Engine features
Download: Demo download include all the tools that ship with the full version.
Shiva3D is a 3d game engine that is designed for web, console and mobile games and applications. Engine can run in OpenGL, DirecX and software modes. Some features include Nvidia physX, compound dynamic body, point light shadows, per-vertex per-pixel and lightmapping. Shiva3D has a free web edition of the engine, with ability to publish your games online.
Features: Shiva3D features
Download: Download Shiva3D
Panda3D is open source game engine and 3d rendering engine using Python and C++. Some features include physics, particle effects, GUI creation, AI, OpenGL/DirectX, render to texture and advanced shaders (normals, gloss, glow maps, HDR, cel shading).
Features: Panda3D features
Download: Download Panda3D
Esenthel Engine is a complete game development suit that offers ability to create fully featured triple A games. It provides the developer with rich toolset simplifying the game development process. The engine supports wide array of rendering, animation, physics, memory and network. Different licenses include a free non-commercial version as well as personal and company license.
Features: Esenthel features
Download: Download Esenthel
idTech4 is a game engine that powers games such as Doom 3, Quake 4, Prey and Brink. John Carmack released idTech 4 source code at the end of 2011 as open source. Some features include unified lighting and shadowing, shadow volumes and mega texture.
Features: iDTech4 features
Download: ModDB.com download iDTech 4
Ogre3D is an open source rendering engine. It is not a game engine, but a 3d rendering engine. It allows game developers to utilize hardware-accelerated 3D graphics into their own engine. It features object-oriented design, multi-platform with OpenGL and Direct3D support, landscape scene manager, animation engine and content exporters for most 3d modeling software.
Features: Ogre3d.org features
Download: Download Ogre3d
Cross-platform real-time 3d renderingengine using Direct3D and OpenGL. Irrlicht is not a game engine but a 3d rendering engine. Includes features such as dynamic shadows, particle system, character animation system, indoor/outdoor rendering, collision detection, lightmapping, direct import of common 3d mesh file formats and simple collision. It is platform independent. Irrlicht is open source.
Features: Irrlicht features
Download: Downloads Irrlicht
For a full list of various game engines see the following links:
Any other game engines you think should have been included? Let us know on WoLD Forum thread: Recommended 3D Game Engines.
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