Updated: Jan 21, 2022
Something I used to think about when wanting to make video games was just how much money I would have to spend to even start. First you need a computer, then you need a game engine, but which one do I pick, will I need this software, or how will I accomplish this? You get the point.
Thinking about making video games and finding a good game engine can feel like a daunting task, but in all actuality it is a lot easier than you think. You have probably typed "Best Game Engine" or "Free video game design" trying to find which one to pick. I have done the same researching and in doing so decided I would make a list out of them so everyone else trying to build games can save some time searching.
The other thought that scared me was how much would everything cost just to try and start? Once I finally started researching, I quickly found out that game engines don't really cost all the much, and sometimes are free to use! After doing a little digging, not only did I find out there were tons of free engines to choose from, but even some of the larger and more well known were free or had just switched to free.
Now, depending on what style of games you want to make will influence what game engine you might want download. Maybe you like 2D or like the idea of RPG games? Apart from the features, programming language and everything that comes with a game engine, you should keep in mind that your choice should be centered around what you as a designer want to make.
With that in mind I have listed out game engines I have looked up when trying to decide on the best ones to choose from. Even though I have them numbered, don't feel that one is better than the other just because of that. Some may be a little less known than others, but they are still game engines and can be used to build a video game.
#1 - Unity
Unity is a very powerful Game Engine and should be one of your top choices when wanting to start building your very own video games. A nice feature with Unity is that it not only handles 3D games, but you can work on 2D games as well making it very versatile. Another really nice feature is the Unity Asset Store, where you can find thousands of templates, characters, textures, audio and more! So if want to start building games fast without having to spend too many hours learning and building your own content, you can download free or paid tools to accelerate your game design. This is a paid asset, but take a look at THIS tool to show you just what Unity is capable of and how fast you can build a game.
Now Unity is free to use, but there are a few more features with the paid versions, but you don't need them to build and sell a video game. Depending on how much your income is from games or assets you will need to upgrade to a paid version, but the income requirements are relatively high.
#2 - Unreal Engine
The next Ultimate contender in video game design is the Unreal Engine, and when you look at their site and see the games built with them you can see why. Unreal Engine is made and used by Epic Games, and you should recognize that name with the Fortnite craze. The Unreal Engine is a 100% ready to go engine with no extra purchases, they simply collect royalties on profits when they reach certain levels. If you are wanting to build a game and looking for the ultimate tool, check out the Unreal Engine! Another nice feature for someone who struggles with coding is BluePrints, a visual programming feature that comes with Unreal along with a Marketplace to download content.
Some games built with the Unreal Engine: Fortnite, Their big games are displayed on their homepage but Fortnite obviously needs its own link.
#3 - CryEngine
Another top tier game engine to get you started on your video game journey is the CryEngine, and it easy to see why it is high on the list. This engine is another one that is capable of building AAA games, and like Unity and Unreal, it is free to use and comes with its very own Marketplace. Similar to Unreal, the "only pay when you earn" mentality applies with its own royalty program. If you aren't convinced, just take a look at their website and see the awesome games that have been built with it!
#4 - Stencyl
As the image implies, Stencyl is a game engine that requires no coding. However, you will need to be familiar with how code works to build a game, but for the most part you just need to plug in the blocks of code and let the engine do the rest.
As the image above shows, it's coding is slightly different than the standard, but works just the same. Another thing to point out is that this is focused on 2D games for mobile and web and has no 3D capabilities. So if you want to build video games that are solely 2D, then Stencyl is a great free game engine to test out.
Blender is another free game engine you can use to build games. The amount of tools in this engine is incredible, you can model, rig, animate and build games all in one location, which makes it a very useful tool whether building video games and just wanting to make great characters and props. If you look at their website you will see just how popular this program is getting and why it is one to consider.
The other engine I have paired with this one is Armory, and that's because it integrates with Blender to add even more features between the two. Armory and Blender both are a well rounded package whether you want to use them to build games or simply use them to build assets.
#6 - Amazon Lumberyard
Amazon Lumberyard is a relatively new engine, but has a lot going for it. Like all the other engines shown before it, this one is free, and makes it an obvious choice when wanting to get started making video games. There is some paid content if you choose to get it like most engines, but you do not need to buy it in order to build a game.
#7 - Godot
Godot is another nice free game engine to build video games. Whether you want to build 2D or 3D, this engine can help you get there. Equipped with tools to help you start building games and not stuck starting from scratch it makes it a great choice for beginners who don't want to spend a lot of hours learning all the fine details. Just like Lumberyard, this engine is 100% free.
#8 - Defold
Defold is primarily a 2D platform with some minor 3D capabilities. Regardless it is a nice game engine if you are looking for one that won't bog down your drive space.
Some games built with Defold: Family Island and more!
#9 - Monogame
Monogame is a handy game engine that allows you to build games across ALL platforms, and utilizes only one framework to keep things simple. Like most engines, this one supports both 2D and 3D, making it a nice choice.
Something that was recently introduced was the "Xbox Live Creators Program" which allows anyone with a Windows 10 computer and an Xbox One to publish their games directly to the Xbox One store! So if you want to jump to one of the largest consoles out their with a top of the line game, take a look at Monogame and see if its right for you!
#10 - Corona
Corona is a 2D game engine that gives you the capability to build on all platforms. This engine was build to be fast, easy and powerful leveraging the Lua language. Through in its simulation and live testing features, you are able to get games out quickly! If you are wanting more features, there are well over a hundred plugins to speed up your game design process or ad cool features that you want to include in your game.
Some games built with Corona: Ava Airborne, Tiny Boxes, and more!!
#11 - Torque3D
Torque3D is another engine you may not be as familiar with, but it is still capable of building games and simulations. In order to download the software you will need to go through several steps, but luckily there are tutorials and documents to walk you through the process.
#12 - GameSalad
GameSalad is a subscription based game engine, but not an overly expensive one. This engine focuses on visual programming to make it easier for new users who are unfamiliar with how coding works to get started. This one also is built to be able to use as an instructor for teaching students which is a nice way to get kids involved in coding by letting them build games.
#13 - Phaser
Phaser is a 2D game engine that uses the HTML 5 framework to build desktop, mobile and web based games. They have a step by step guide to get you started building games with tons of tutorials and examples to dig through. This engine is created to run fast, is completely free and made to be fun to use.
Some games made with Phaser: See there list HERE!
#14 - GameMaker
GameMaker is a powerhouse when it comes to 2D games. building scenes is fast, easy and fluid. You can modify them on the go without reworking all your progress. This isn't a free engine as it does require a purchase, but it is one of the leading 2D game engines in my point of view. Their site is packed with training material to get you started making your game quickly.
Some games made with GameMaker: Alien Escape, LevelHead, and more!
#15 - HeroEngine
The last game I have on the list is HeroEngine, and as you will see it is another paid option for a game engine. The cost does come with its benefits though, HeroEngine takes care of some of the tedious tasks that comes with making games so you can focus on building the game itself without having to worry about all the details going on in the background. Throw in that it has been used to build some games you have most likely heard of shows why it is on this list.
As I'm sure you noticed, towards the end there were a few "pay to use" game engines even though this is technically a list of free ones, and the reason for that was even though they are not free, they still are game engines to use if you want. Also, depending on how much income you make using an engine you might need to upgrade to a paid license, pay royalties, or even pay to use some of the core features.
Regardless, all of the engines listed above have their pros and cons, some more than others. The biggest question you need to ask when picking one is "What games do I want to make". If you pick an engine just because it looks cool, you might not get very far and feel like you are getting nowhere and give up.
For instance, I have installed 4 different engines and right now I am using Unity. The first one I downloaded was the Unreal Engine. I picked that one because it looked cool and it was what I wanted my games to look like. I quickly learned that that one just didn't "fit" me and that I might not be ready to make such a large game right out of the box. So in other words I got intimidated by it and ran away!
Engine number 2 was Stencyl. It was small, simple and free. I went through a few tutorials thinking I would make some killer games and ended up just not enjoying what I was doing. Although the coding aspect was simpler, I didn't think it would work for what I wanted to do. I was also using it as a starter engine in hopes of learning how to make great games. I liked the idea of making 2D games as I am working on some now, but I also wanted to get into 3D games at some point.
So once again I scrapped it and went to searching for another one. After research, I decided that Unity was my best fit. I liked the features, the 2D/3D options and the price range obviously. I have been using that engine exclusively now and I'm quite pleased with it.
As far as the fourth engine, I installed Blender on my computer, but I do not use any of the game engine features. I primarily use it for my 3D asset creation as it is quick and easy to learn how to use and build with.
So which one do you choose? I personally like Unity, but maybe you won't like the way the interface looks or having to use C#? When it comes down to it, you need to ask yourself the following questions. Otherwise you could end up doing what I did and waste over a year of testing different ones and not be any closer to building a video game. Worse yet, you feel discouraged and give up entirely!
1 - What games do I want to make?
3D, 2D, Platform, Top Down, Adventure, Mobile, etc
2 - Is there a specific language I want/need to learn?
C#, C++, no coding, etc
3 - What is my price range?
Can you spend money on more features or assets to speed up design or do you need to start from scratch to save money?
4 - What other tools do I have access to?
Can you make 2D animations and characters, can you model and rig 3D characters, do you need to learn that or can you download and buy from other places?
5 - What will my computer handle?
Is the engine you want too much for your computer to handle?
Keep those questions in mind when deciding, and no matter what engine you choose I hope you don't give up trying to build great video games. You need to start somewhere and with all the tools available it is getting even easier for anybody to build games if they have the desire to do it!