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Does a better engine make a better game?

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1. How game engines work?

We hear about engines creating hyper-realistic games, but how they work, what do they really do. Game engine is basically a framework for game development, this framework helps us with several core areas that all games have, graphics, audio and logic. It’s a framework because it provides tools and structure that every game requires to function. Whatever the game is these will be included, but modern games have much more like physics, AI, networking, optimization etc.

Before all games were made from scratch, game developers would get design, then using coordinates they would be placed where they “should’ be at.

Let’s look at some game engines to see what they actually do, are they different, and how they influenced games.

Game Maker: You don’t have to write code in it, for example to make a simple platformer in game maker you need to understand that when the player presses spacebar the block should jump, but you don’t need to understand why things jump in a parabola or how the block is being animated, there are some clear limitation.

Unreal Engine 4: “Incredibly robust professional level tool that recently became completely free to use” (TheHappieCat, 2015a)

It is quite a bit complicated then Game Maker, there are two things that separate Unreal Engine from other game engines, first the blueprint system “The Blueprints Visual Scripting system in Unreal Engine is a complete gameplay scripting system based on the concept of using a node-based interface to create gameplay elements from within Unreal Editor.” (UnrealEngine, 2018)

The other thing would be if you would like to optimize your experience using Unreal Engine 4, they offer complete control over their source code to their subscribers, it’s used even by triple-a studios and hobbyist alike.

Unity: It has become very well known for being the source for some not so popular games on steam, that exists simply because it was always free and simple it supports higher level languages like C sharp and JavaScript and has many tools that allows developers to bypass coding altogether. Unity also has accumulated a community with tons of free tutorials assets and content.

2. Open World Games

Often being referred as “massive mammoth undertakings” that are truly a feat, they fact that they’ve become common is a testament to how development developed overtime.

How do developers create massive open worlds?

The most important thing would be credibility, it wouldn’t do to have the world not be authentic, the developers would do research and do field work for it to become more realistic. This kind of research also takes place for fictitious games, even fictitious languages created based on ancestor languages of modern ones. Some examples would be Sucker Punch recreated the surrounding and forests of the city of Seattle. Similarly developers of Mafia 3 used photographs of photos from 1960s of New Orleans to create their world. Just Cause 3 collected photographs of Mediterranean Islands and also send a team out on the site to get a better idea of the area. Watchdogs Ubisoft recorded sound of the crowds in Chicago to replicate sounds.(GamingBolt, 2018a

Development and Co-ordination would be one of the most handful tasks when developing an open world game because there are many variables and so many moving parts, mostly because how big these games are, this requires coordination of the development team, since coding assignments would be divided into parts. For a typical open world there would a team for development of assets and models, physics, animations, AI, vestigital systems, cutscenes, cg rendering, handling net code, narrative progression, and development for the game engine.(GamingBolt, 2018b)

All this is handled by a development team. There are systems like Pre Force, or Alien Brain which are essentially data repositories, that basically are used for backup to make the development a little less scary. Most of the times developers are not starting from scratch these days, using game engines or at the very least some part of source code used for previous games.

A.I. and NPCs

They play a very important part in most or almost any game experience, for instance I previously mentioned how Ubisoft recorded random sound bites of people talking just for it to be more authentic. Another example would be such as Bethesda when they created a dynamic, unscripted general goals would be given to each NPC, but how they followed them would be entirely up to them. Nintendo programmed entire schedule for NPCs that they would follow with or without players interaction with them or the world. (GamingBolt, 2018c)

3. Unity, Unreal Engine, CryEngine, Godot

Game Engine Comparison

The two biggest engines right now Unity and Unreal Engine have one big difference coding, in both engines you can code in Unity you can use C Sharp and in Unreal Engine you can use C++, the main difference would be that in Unreal mainly supports a system called blueprints, which is in a sense visual programming in short terms is programming, coding in it’s normal sense but without actually writing the come, instead you have modules you can put in open area, Unreal Engine depends on blueprints quite a lot, Unity has no feture of coding or designing like Unreal Engine however they’re implementing visual visual shader scripting. The game engine Godot has visual scripting available where you can both use CC++ as well as their own scripting language called GD script supposedly very similar to Python. CryEngine has something called flow graph editor it’s used similarly as previously mentioned scripting tools, however it is not as powerful as bluepriest in UnrealEngine. CryEngine supports three coding languages C++, C Sharp, Lua. The most user friendly out of these, recommended for beginners is Unity, mostly because of it’s simple design, everything is easily reachable. Another recommended game engine for beginners is Unreal Engine 4 however compared to Unity, Unity wins by simplicity only as well as having the largest asset store. (Sykoo, 2018a)

Pricing, CryEngine, Unity, UnrealEngine4 and Godot these game engines are completely free both to use and commercially in more detail. Unity has 3 plans, personal which is free other are priced on monthly subscriptions, personal and pro, which is more for people working in teams or making a project which requires more effort. Personal or free account type comes with some setbacks your game splash art comes with Unity logo, Unity is also royalty free, although if your commercially published games earn more then 100.000$ income per year you need to upgrade to a higher tier license.(reference) Unreal Engine4 has no plans or subscriptions however there is a royalty fee of 5% of your games royalty fee gross after the first 3,000$ earned per game per calendar quarter.(reference) Godot has no plans no subscriptions you can download for free, neither there are any royalties, so you can publish as many commercial products as you would like and not get charged. CryEngine doesn’t have any subscription requirements, no royalties or obligations, license fees or limitation. There are however two features for which you can subscribe for additional options. Both are monthly subscription. (Sykoo, 2018b)

Graphics, an ever popular topic when discussing and comparing game engines, and it is obvious why, to better determine what game engine is suited better to accomplish what you envisioned, to get the best results it is only possible through testing, since you have a free version for most game engines, it is only a time investment. Type of games, knowing the type of game you want to develop helps with picking a game engine. (Sykoo, 2018c)

Some special type Engines

Game engines for MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) are quite more complex and more difficult to produce rather than for single player games. Some of the more popular MMO software packages are Abyssal Engine, Hero Engine, Q, Vision Engine etc.

Another type of engines would be engines with specifications for 3D first person shooters (FPS). “It was enhanced through a series of implementation at various levels and generations, like “Jurassic Park:Trespusser”(1998)” (Bhattacharya, 2012a)

Jurassic Park: Trespasser(1998) first introduced physics in an FPS game.

Next Red Faction (2001) would feature destructive object in the game, to be more specific walls and grounds which would later become just about anything.

Battlezone(1998) and Battlezone II: Combat Commander(1990) made it possible to combat while using a vehicle in game.

Everything above would become an inclusion after 2004. (Bhattacharya, 2012b)

Type of Games

First Person Shooters (FPS) usually include rendering of a large 3D visual world, a responsive camera, high-fidelity animations, a “forgiving” character motion and collision model, artificial intelligence for non-player characters.

Platformers and other Third-Person games “ “ Platformer” is the term applied to third-person character-based action games where jumping from platform to platform is the primary gameplay mechanic.” (Gregory, n.d. a)Most commonly known games from this era are Space Panic, Donkey Kong, Pitfall! and Super Mario Brothers. The main character of these games, at least what they have in common is a “cartoony” look. Technology for developing Platformers consists of moving platforms, ladders, ropes, puzzle-like environment, a “follow camera”, and a complex camera collision system.

Fighting Games

“Fighting games are typically two-player games involving humanoid characters pummeling each other in a ring of some sort.” (Gregory, n.d. b). Fighting games have focused their technologies on a rich set of animations, accurate hit detection, crowds but a static background.

Racing Games

Racing games technology went into camera, following the vehicle from behind, or sometimes inside the cockpit as a first-person type. One of the issues would be settings for the camera when the player, vehicle enters a tunnel, collision of the camera is what they focus on.

Real-Time Strategy (RTS)

“The modern real-time strategy (RTS) genre was arguably defi ned by Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty (1992).” (Gregory, n.d. c)

Some established titles from this genre include, Warcraft, Command & Conquer, Age of Empires, Starcraft. Simply put what they have in common is the unit control, player can control one or multiple units at time.

Technology for these games include, units in low resolution so that the game can support large amounts of them, the player is allowed to build new structures, user interactions are usually done by a single click. (Gregory, n.d. d)

Massively Multiplayer Online Games

Some notable titles would be World of Warcraft, Star Wars Galaxies, EverQuest.

What defines these types of games is the number of simultaneous players online at one time, in one large virtual world. Their technology mostly focuses, on large batteries of servers that provide and power up this world, graphics fidelity is not the primary focus since it is usually a massive world, most of them require a subscription fee. (Gregory, n.d. e)

Evolution of Game Engines

As early as 1989 one sci-fi game engine was developed, named Ultima Underworld carrying the same name as the game developed using the new found technology. Soon after the studio that created the engine made Space Rogue game, the engine found a wider usage, being used for creating texture mapping which would include for easier development of floors, walls, ceilings in game.( Bhattacharya, 2012c) “In 1993, ID software developed Doom engine , which is not a 3D engine at all, but had capacity to represent objects, characters and whole level map by 2D sprite representation.”( Bhattacharya, 2012d)

Doom engine best performed in terms of fast pace rendering, but it required 386 based PC standard using VGA support. It was a 2D engine.

“NovaLogic’s prprietory engine Voxel engine (1992) was the basic engines for all Comanche games.”(Bhattacharya, 2012e) Voxel had their own way of representing volumetric objects as three dimensional bitmaps. Previously all other engines were used vector graphics, which were in comparison slower as well as visually inferior. Notable games developed by NovaLogic using Voxel engine would be Blade Runner and Command & Conquer.

In late 1993 another game was published using a newly developed engine, Build Engine which was used to create 3D like effects at least visually using 2D rendering technology, the idea was using varying the sectors with different heights to achieve an illusion. A breakthrough was hit in 1995 when XnGine the first 3D game engine was developed, using a DOS base. Implementing a high resolution graphics later that year with 3dfx video cards.

In 1996 the next major game engine that was developed is Quake Engine by ID who is also known as the first “true” 3D engine, it was one of a kind using the technology that would be used for many years to come, purging parts of the map that the player is unable to see. It was possible due to advantages of Z-buffering, a method for determining how much content was actually visible to the player, by knowing the players coordinates. “Renderware(1996) was the most popular engine for multiplatform games. It supports PlayStation 2, Wii, GameCube, Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PSP platforms.” (Bhattacharya, 2012)

As 1997 came, there was C language support in Tech 2 Engine, colored lighting effects as well as native OpenGL support.

GoldSRC developed in 1998 came basically as a fresh start, bringing a whole new perspective when creating games. It supported both OpenGL and Direct3D. Some examples of games developed using the new technology would be Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat.

Developed in the same year 1998 is one of the most popular game engines Unreal Engine, which gave birth to the game of similar name Unreal Tournament, the engine would integrate its own scripting language UnrealScript and an editor as well UnrealEd.Quake III would be the last notable engine developed before the 2000s, it was published in 1999 which would implement the use of 32-bit colors, shaders and advanced networking.

The term “game engine” was coined in the mid-1990s due to the development of first person shooters such as Doom, Wolfenstein 3D… Game engine studios usually have basic disciplines like engineers, artists, game designers, producers, management and support staff. Every one of these disciplines has its own sub discipline I will go through some of them briefly.

Engineers

“The engineers design and implement the software that makes the game, and the tools, work”(Gregory, n.d. f)

Some engineers even dedicate to only one system engine, where others specialize in various areas as audio, collisions, physics, rendering.

Artists

There is a saying in the gaming industry “content is king” (reference), artists produce visual and audio elements of a work. They come in many subsections like concept artists, 3D modelers, texture artists, lighting artists, animators, motion capture actors, sound designers, voice actors, composers.

Game Designers

“The game designers’ job is to design the interactive portion of the player’s experience, typically known as gameplay” (Gregory, n.d. g)

Their tasks are divided into different groups of designers, some would work on individual levels or geographical areas, determining the story, as well as where enemies, weapons, in one word content would spawn.

Producers

Producers job can vary from studio to studio, usually from completing duties of a resource manager to managing the schedule. Where in others their purpose is of a senior game designer capacity. However some smaller companies don’t even have producers at all.

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