What Is A Game Engine: An Essential Overview for Beginners

A game engine is a specialised software framework primarily designed for the development of video games, enabling developers to create and manage a game’s various aspects efficiently. It usually comprises relevant libraries and support programmes that facilitate the process of game creation, making the tasks of rendering, physics, scripting, and sound management easier for game developers.

The game engines can range from providing basic functions that save game developers time and effort, to offering a diverse array of tools and systems that simplify and accelerate the development process.

These virtual engines power the game worlds, breathing life into the different levels and scenes that gamers explore and interact with.

Developers utilise game engines to combine elements like graphics and sound, storylines, character designs, and more into a cohesive and immersive gaming experience.

There are various types of game engines available in the market, each catering to different game genres, platforms or specific needs of developers. With their rendering engines, game engines can manage the graphical components of a game as well, which is essential for creating visually appealing game experiences.

Consequently, game engine technology has a significant impact on the ever-evolving world of video games, shaping the industry’s future and dictating the limits of what can be achieved in this exciting and continuously growing field.

What Is A Game Engine

A game engine is a specialised software framework that developers use to create and develop video games.

It provides a foundation that streamlines the development process by offering essential systems and tools, such as physics simulations, graphics rendering, and artificial intelligence (AI) functionality. This structure allows developers to save time and resources by not having to build every aspect from scratch.

Game engines have various functions and purposes. They help developers load the game world, insert players into it, and manage in-game interactions. Furthermore, they make it easier for the developers to integrate various game elements and systems efficiently, significantly speeding up the game development process.

Every game engine consists of multiple key components and support programmes. These components ensure that games run smoothly without compatibility or technical issues. Some of the most common elements in a game engine include:

  • Graphics Rendering System: for creating the visuals of the game world.
  • Physics Engine: to simulate realistic in-game movements and interactions.
  • Audio System: for managing and playing in-game sounds and music tracks.
  • Scripting System: allowing developers to control or modify game logic.
  • Input Management System: to handle input from devices such as keyboards, mice, and controllers.
  • Artificial Intelligence System: for controlling the behaviour of non-player characters (NPCs).
  • Networking System: to connect players and manage multiplayer functionality.

Game engines act as the powerhouse behind the entire game world, making it essential for developers to choose the right engine for their project based on its features, flexibility, and support.

Key Components of a Game Engine

A game engine is a software framework primarily designed for the development of video games, and generally includes relevant libraries and support programs.

There are several key components that make up a game engine, such as

Rendering Engine

The rendering engine is responsible for generating the 2D or 3D graphics that players see on screen while playing a game. It creates the illusion of motion, depth, and lighting by utilising various algorithms and techniques.

Examples of rendering engines include OpenGL, DirectX, and Vulkan.

Physics Engine

A physics engine simulates the behaviour of objects within the game according to the laws of physics. It handles collisions, gravity, and other forces that affect how objects move and interact with one another, enhancing the realism and immersion of the game experience. Examples of physics engines include PhysX, Havok, and Bullet.

Audio Engine

The audio engine is responsible for the in-game sound effects and music.

It creates an immersive audio experience for the players by managing multiple audio sources, synchronising sounds with the game’s events, and applying various audio processing techniques such as reverberation and spatialisation. Examples of audio engines include FMOD, Wwise, and OpenAL.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) in a game engine controls the behaviour of non-player characters (NPCs) and other game elements. AI algorithms are used to make NPCs and other game elements appear intelligent and capable of making decisions, enabling them to react to player actions and game events in a realistic manner.

Examples of AI techniques used in game development include finite state machines, behaviour trees, and neural networks.

Networking

Networking components enable multiplayer features and allow players to connect and interact with each other in real-time within the game environment, whether they are playing on a LAN or the internet.

Networking systems handle server-client communication, synchronisation of game states, and management of player input data. Examples of networking libraries include RakNet, Photon, and enet.

Popular Game Engines

There are several popular game engines available to developers, each with its own unique set of features and capabilities. This section will provide a brief overview of four widely used game engines: Unity, Unreal Engine, Godot, and CryEngine.

Unity

Unity is a versatile and user-friendly game engine, well-suited for both beginners and experienced developers. It offers a wide range of tools and allows developers to create games for various platforms, including consoles, mobile devices, and PCs.

Some notable games developed using Unity include Monument ValleyHollow Knight, and Firewatch. The engine provides rich documentation and a vast community, making it a popular choice for game development. 

Unreal Engine

The Unreal Engine, developed by Epic Games, is another popular game engine used in the industry. Known for its high-quality graphics capabilities and robust toolset, it is widely employed for developing games such as FortniteGears of War, and Batman: Arkham Asylum.

This engine is suitable for businesses of all sizes and offers real-time technology to create engaging visual content.

Godot

Godot is an open-source game engine that has been gaining popularity due to its flexibility and ease of use. It offers a range of features, such as 2D and 3D rendering capabilities, a built-in scripting language, and a node-based architecture.

This engine is an excellent choice for indie game developers as well as those looking to contribute to an open-source project.

CryEngine

CryEngine is a powerful game engine developed by Crytek, known for delivering high-quality graphics and performance. This engine has been used in various well-known games, such as CrysisFar Cry, and Ryse: Son of Rome.

Developers can benefit from CryEngine’s advanced toolset, including its rendering technology and realistic physics simulation capabilities.

Choosing the Right Game Engine

When selecting a game engine, several factors should be considered to make the best choice for your project’s needs. In this section, we will address ease of use, platform support, licensing and cost, as well as community and support.

Ease of Use

The ease with which you can learn and utilise a game engine is crucial. Some engines offer user-friendly interfaces, while others may require more advanced programming knowledge. For beginners, engines like CryEngine and Godot are popular choices due to their intuitive tools and helpful tutorials.

Platform Support

It is essential to determine which platforms you want your game to run on before choosing a game engine. Different engines have varying levels of support for different platforms. Many engines, like Unity and Unreal, are known for their wide-ranging support across numerous platforms, including PCs, consoles, and mobile devices.

Licensing and Cost

Game engine costs can vary depending on factors such as licensing agreements and royalty fees. Open-source engines like Godot are free and grant users the flexibility to modify and distribute their games as they wish. Alternatively, engines like CryEngine do not require license fees but may have other costs. Weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each engine’s licensing model when making your decision.

Community and Support

A strong community and extensive support network can be invaluable resources for game developers. The presence of a vibrant community can provide access to an abundance of tutorials, forums, and other learning materials.

Well-established engines like Unity and Unreal have a large user base, making it easier to find help when needed. Open-source engines like Godot also foster active communities, with developers contributing to engine improvements and sharing knowledge.

Custom Game Engines vs Third-Party Engines

When it comes to game development, one of the significant decisions a developer needs to make is whether to use a custom game engine or utilise a third-party engine. Both have their pros and cons, which need careful consideration before making a choice.

Third-party game engines, such as Unreal Engine, are designed to support a wide range of game genres and playstyles. These engines have the advantage of being versatile and accommodating to the needs of various developers, helping them save time and resources on initial development. Third-party engines often come with support services and extensive documentation for setting up and using the engine efficiently.

On the other hand, custom game engines are created by developers specifically for their projects. They offer greater control and flexibility, allowing developers to tailor the engine to their unique game requirements.

Writing a custom game engine often results in greater optimisation and performance improvements, as no unnecessary features are included. However, developing a custom engine can be more time-consuming and requires specific expertise to build and maintain it.

For smaller development teams or those with limited resources, using a third-party engine may be the more practical choice, as it provides a solid foundation and a faster route to game development.

Nonetheless, larger studios sometimes prefer to take the extra effort and time to create proprietary engines tailored to their specific needs and intellectual property.

To summarise, choosing between a custom game engine and a third-party engine depends on factors such as project requirements, available resources, and the desired level of control and flexibility. Developers need to weigh these factors and determine the most suitable option for their game’s success.

The Future of Game Engines

As the gaming industry evolves, game engines are also undergoing continuous development to meet the demands of creators and gamers alike. They are becoming more versatile and powerful, providing a wide range of tools and features that enable developers to produce high-quality games with stunning visuals, realistic physics, immersive audio, and intuitive input functions.

In the future, game engines are expected to become more accessible to a wider range of developers, including independent developers who may not have the resources of major studios.

This will be possible due to the increasing availability of affordable licensing models, as well as the development of open-source game engines that can be easily modified and shared within the community.

Moreover, game engines are expected to incorporate emerging technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and artificial intelligence (AI) to offer more immersive gaming experiences.

For example, AI integration will allow for the creation of more realistic non-playable characters (NPCs), while VR and AR technologies will enable gaming experiences that fully engage the senses of the players.

This combination will result in more complex and reactive game worlds that adapt and respond to player input and behaviour.

Furthermore, the future of game engines may also see the rise of cloud-based services, allowing for cross-platform development, shared resources, and real-time collaboration. These services would enable developers to efficiently create games and allow them to run on various platforms, without the need for time-consuming and resource-intensive code conversion.

In summary, the future of game engines will likely be marked by increasing accessibility, integration of new technologies, and cloud-based collaboration, helping to create even more immersive and innovative gaming experiences.

Phil

Phil

I’m the resident head of comms and partnerships here at Draw & Code. I work on strategy, sales, marketing and other vital areas at a studio that was founded on a dream and has spent the intervening decade trying to make that dream come true. I believe that immersive and interactive technologies are impacting on our lives and being in the epicentre of this industry makes every day a thrill.
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