Best Free Game Engines

Free game engines contain tools that enable game developers to create new games without starting from scratch every time.

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by Bethanny Parker

Updated September 15, 2022

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Believe it or not, there are over 5 million video games out there. This number would undoubtedly be much lower if it were not for video game engines. Game engines contain tools that enable game developers to create new games without starting from scratch every time. They can start with a framework that contains useful libraries and functions that can help them develop new games faster.

Whether you plan to go to college for video game design or just want to tinker with creating video games in your spare time, game engines can help you achieve your game development goals. This guide will explain what game engines are and where to find the best free game engines.

What Are Game Engines?

Game engines are frameworks that are used for video game design. A game engine contains the code needed to render 2D or 3D graphics, play sounds, enable animation, and support the physics engine. The game engine handles memory management, networking, and streaming. It may support cinematics and power artificial intelligence for computer-controlled players. Some game engines can render 2D and 3D games, while others can only render 2D games.

Game engines allow game developers to worry less about the basic mechanics of video games and more about the details that make their games unique. There are many different game engines that developers can use to create 2D and 3D video games.

Do Game Engines Require Programming?

Yes, game engines require programming. Different engines use different programming languages, but the most common is C++. Other languages you might need to know include C, C#, and JavaScript. Python may also be useful, as well as Java.

JavaScript is one of the easiest programming languages to learn. If you are a beginner, you might want to look for a game engine that uses JavaScript. Game engines that use JavaScript include A-Frame (VR), Blend4Web, DX Studio, and Gamvas.

The Best Free 3D Game Engines

There are several free 3D game engines and many more that can also handle 2D games. Here is a list of free game engines you can use to create 2D and 3D games. Some of these may be free to download and use but require you to pay a percentage of the game revenue to use the game engine.

Unity

Unity is the first-choice game engine for more than 45% of the world's game developers. This game engine is free and available for both Mac and Windows. Unity has online tutorials that can teach you how to create your first video game in a matter of hours, even if you don't know how to program.

The Unity Asset Store contains all sorts of level editors, sound libraries, and 3D models to help you build your game, but most of the content is not free. Unity uses a component system to create characters. You can build up each component by dragging files to the component and dropping them.

Unity has a free version, but if your game earns $100,000 or more per year, you will have to upgrade to Unity Pro, which costs $125 per month. There is also a Unity Plus subscription for $49 per month that unlocks certain features, such as the pro editor UI skin.

Unreal Engine 4

Epic Games created Unreal Engine to help developers create games, training simulations, 3D films, persona animations, and visualizations. This cloud-based game development platform provides the technology to turn a developer's ideas into 3D visual content.

Unreal Engine 4's features include support for 2D drawing and 3D games. The engine supports in-app purchases and provides in-game analytics. It offers prototype creation, player management, virtual reality, physics simulation, and support for multi-player gaming networks.

Epic Games offers a free version of Unreal Engine, and there are tons of free assets that developers can incorporate into their games. The biggest downside is that the program is huge, and you need a beefy computer to run it.

Godot

Godot is an open-source 2D and 3D game engine that supports both text-based and visual programming languages. This powerful software has a node-based workflow. Godot can be used to create anything from side-scrolling platformers to first-person exploration games.

Godot is completely free and runs on Windows, Linux, and macOS. Developers can also export games in HTML5 or for mobile devices. However, Godot does not provide built-in porting for console games. If you want your game on the Xbox One or another console, you will have to hire a third-party service or learn how to port the game yourself.

Armory

Armory 3D is an open-source 3D game engine focused on performance, portability, and maintaining a small footprint. The program is a Blender add-on, so you will need to know how to use Blender to use Armory. This game engine was built with the Haxe program language using the Kha framework.

In addition to the add-on version, a full installation version contains a copy of Blender 2.8. The Armory game engine, combined with Blender, allows you to create your graphics and your game code all in one environment.

Solar2D

Solar2D is an open-source, Lua-based game engine that supports 2D game development for desktop, mobile, iOS, tvOS, AndroidTV, and HTML5. This game engine has several plugins that provide functionality for features like media, analytics, and in-app advertising. Solar2D Native allows developers to use any native C, C++, Obj-C, or Java library.

Solar2D is completely free, with no hidden charges. No matter how popular your game gets, you won't have to pay for using the game engine. There is support available through the game engine's forum and Discord chat.

CryEngine

CryEngine is a 3D game engine with several high-tech visual effects, such as area lights, tessellation, and efficient anti-aliasing. There is a particle effect system, realistic plant life, motion blur, and depth of field.

The CryEngine sandbox gives developers real-time control over their games, and an advanced artificial intelligence system enables realistic computer-controlled characters. CryEngine has built-in physics and offers a high level of performance.

You can start using CryEngine for free, but you have to pay a 5% royalty on sales once your game earns more than $5,000 in annual revenue.

Frequently Asked Questions About Free Game Engines

Which game engine is the easiest to use?

According to GameFromScratch, the easiest game engines include Scratch, Construct 3, GDevelop, ClickTeam Fusion, and Microsoft MakeCode Arcade. Scratch is easy enough to be used by children. It's a free game engine that MIT created with the goal of teaching kids how to program.

Construct 3 runs in the browser and uses a spreadsheet-like format for game design. GDevelop is a free, open-source game engine that operates similarly to Construct 3. Microsoft MakeCode Arcade is a good choice for first-time developers. It is similar to Scratch.

Is C++ or C# better to use for game development?

Programming languages commonly used for game development include C++, Java, HTML5, JavaScript, and C#. More game engines use C++ than any other language, so it is a good first choice for new game developers. However, C# is the only programming language supported natively by Unity, so it is also a good choice for first-time game developers.

When considering which programming language to use, you should consider choosing your game engine first and then find out which language(s) it supports. The exception to this rule is if you already know how to program in one or more languages. In that case, it may be better to choose a game engine that supports a language you already know.

Which free game engines use C++?

Many game engines use C++. The free game engines that use C++ are:

CryEngine, Esenthel, G3D Innovation Engine, Godot, idTech, Irrlicht, Leadwerks, Limon Engine, Lumberyard, Lumix Engine, OGRE, Panda 3D, PhyreEngine, Source Engine (free if your game is free), Torque 3D, Toy Engine, Unigine, Unreal Engine, and Urho3D.

As you can see, there are many choices for C++ game developers looking for free game engines. Most of these game engines are open source.

Feature Image: Alistair Berg / E+ / Getty Images

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