Here’s the thing with
technology: the longer it’s around, the more people will access it. For
instance, 10 years ago, nobody would have dreamed of creating a website
without programming knowledge. Now everyone can do it in minutes. You
can even build a smartphone app in the same way!
So what about creating computer games? Well yes, it
looks like we’re quickly getting there. There are now more and more
solutions for complete beginners who have never written a line of code
in their life. Sounds good to you? Great! Let’s get started with a quick
table of contents.
- How should I choose my game engine?
- What kind of games can I make?
- Construct 2
- Game guru
- RPG Maker
- GameMaker Studio 2
- Other 2D engines
- CopperCube 5
- Unity 3D
- Unreal Engine
- Other 3D engines
- Final Thoughts
How should I choose my game engine?
Since you’re here, we’ll assume you know that a game engine is a dedicated software, or program, for creating games.
You will also know that you need to download and install them on your
computer. Roughly speaking, they offer 4 main kinds of features:
- Full game templates: you basically get a ready-made
game. You only change minor details. Import your own artwork or move a
few sliders to change the colour of the sky, for example.
- Drag and drop: very easy to use – no coding
necessary. This lets you create events or properties by choosing them
from a looooong list. For example, you can add a “solid” property to a
platform to make sure your character doesn’t fall through it.
- Visual scripting: this lets you choose different
functions that replicate code without having to script. They are more
powerful than drag and drop engines and you'll need more time to get to
grasps with their features. However, they are an excellent way to
begin understanding how code works without actually typing anything
- Coding: some game engines use their own scripting
language, trying to make it as easy as possible for beginners. It’s a
great way to learn how to code, especially if you want to later develop
complex games. Others rely on well-known scripting languages, and
mastering them will give you full control over your game, no matter how
complex it is.
Of course, the closer you get to code, the steeper the learning curve
gets. But also remember there are other factors to consider. These
- Your computer: PC or Mac? Some game engines do not
support both – so it will limit your choice. You should also check the
spec requirements. Older computers might be too slow to run the more
powerful game engines.
- Your game genre: Do your research when it comes to
genre-specific engines. For example, if you want to create an RPG (Role
Playing Game) without any code, you could use RPG Maker. If you want to create an adventure game, you could try Adventure Game Studio.
- Your perspective: This is tied into the point
above, but some game engines specialise in 2D, while others support 2D
and 3D. As you can imagine, 3D game engines tend to be more complex with
steeper learning curves.
- Your art skills: Some engines come with a visual
editor that lets you create art directly in them. Usually, this means
pixel art or terrain maps (you can always import your characters and
backgrounds from other programs too).
- Your targeted platform: in other words, this is where your game will be played.
Do you want to only publish for the web? Or do you want to create an
iOS and Android game? Or maybe PCs, Macs and VR? It is all possible (the
technical term is “porting”) , but you need to choose the right game
engine accordingly. Also note that if you only want to publish to
smartphones, we have a dedicated post on how to make game apps.
The Unity export window – choose where you want to port your game
- Your dedication: This is to say: how serious are
you about game development? If you are more of a hobbyist, there is
nothing wrong with choosing the easiest solution. But if you’re
interested in creating a studio and producing games in the long run, you
should aim for an engine with a good reputation and skip our whole list straight to Unity or Unreal. You could even use them as your training ground for learning code – a worthwhile investment.
- Other features: do you need to work on the game by
yourself or with a team? Do you want good support from a community? Is
it updated regularly? These are all questions worth asking to
ensure your engine is future-proof.
Can game engines make any kind of game?
The short answer is yes. But some genres will definitely require scripting.
And let’s be honest here, it would be nearly impossible to build a huge
MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) by yourself
without any programming skills. Similarly, don’t expect to create the
next GTA or Skyrim in the comfort of your bedroom without some advanced
technical knowledge. So to give you a quick overview, we’ve listed some
game genres below to let you see how hard they would be to make.
Simple 2D Games: These easy enough to create. You
will need to invest time in learning how to use the game engine, and of
course in creating your levels, artwork and concept. A few genres are
particularly popular with drag and drop game engines, and these are:
- Puzzles, Platformers, Arcade Games, Racing Games, Text adventures…
Complex 2D Games: games that rely on physics, AI,
multiplayer games or with many features. You should also be able to
create them, but expect to spend a lot more time learning the basics
- RPGs (Role Playing Games, Tower Defense, Adventure Games, Roguelikes, Fighting games…
Simple 3D Games: Things start getting a little bit
more complicated when you work in 3D. The game engines are a lot more
powerful, and therefore a lot more difficult to learn. You can expect to
spend between 3 months – 1 year learning the basics by really studying
how to make things happen for:
- Adventure games, First Person Shooters, Survival games…
So what about complex 3D games? Well, we don’t want
to say they are impossible to make, but it will be very very difficult
as a beginner. Expect to spend a few years of your life studying how to
create games such as:
- MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games), Sports games,
Sandbox, MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena), Real time strategy,
VR (Virtual Reality) Games, Vehicle simulation, War games, Life
Just remember that the amount of time you put in will always result
in better long-term knowledge. Also: the Internet is your best friend in
terms of technical resources – there are even full game templates you
can download to see how things work under the hood.
So which game engine is the best for me?
Since we are focusing on beginner friendly features, we’ve listed the
following game engines in order of ease of use, features and support.
We’ve also separated the list into 2D and 3D (although there is a bit of
A recent Forbes article called GameSalad
“the Youtube for Games”, and while the name is slightly misleading, it
does tell you that these guys want to be for everyone. Their solution is
an incredibly easy to use drag and drop program for
creating 2D games that comes with its own physics and simple “rules” you
apply to objects. In fact, GameSalad even market their platform
at educators who want to teach student how to create games in the
classroom. Of course, it is quite limited in terms of features, but it
should be enough for mobile apps and addictive 2D casual games.
Watch how to get started with GameSalad in 15 mins
- Very easy to use
- Publishes to multiple platforms
- Good community and support
- Drag and drop
- 50% off the pro subscription (usually $25 / month) if you are a student, teacher or in the military
- Subscription model
- Limited features
- No official roadmap for new features
slowly making a name for itself as the engine used for some true hits in
the last few years. These include dozens of games that made it to the
App Store top 100 such as Color Switch and The Line Zen. Their
philosophy is to provide users with ready-made templates that
let you get started with a game in minutes. However, this puts
restrictions on the amount of freedom you can have, and also tends to
help create game clones rather than original concepts. Luckily, you can
also take control of your game mechanics with more advanced features.
Watch how to get started with Buildbox in 20 mins
- Easy drag and drop interface
- Comes with game templates
- Good monetization options
- Exports to all platforms
- Templates tend to create game clones
- Very expensive license starting at $84 / month (paid yearly)
Construct 2 is a very intuitive drag and drop for
creating 2D games. The learning curve is super fast, and the interface
looks a lot like Microsoft products, so it makes it an ideal tool for PC
users who have never looked at a game engine before. Sadly there is no
Mac OS version, and games can only be exported as HTML5. This means that
they need to be converted with a 3rd party service to work as native
apps for Android or iOS, which comes at a cost in terms of performance.
Similarly, games can be played on Windows, Mac OS, Linux, but only in
Watch how to make a basic game in Construct 2 in 20 mins.
- Fast learning curve
- Good support community
- Regular updates
- Free trial edition
- Decently priced, starting at $60
- Marketplace for extra plugins
- Nothing, this game engine is perfect
Although it’s worth noting that people have used RPG Maker for
multiple game genres, you’ve guessed that this engine only does one
thing – and it does it well. It comes with a WYSIWYG editor, and you can
also create the 2D art directly in it. One confusing thing is that
there are 7 different versions of RPG Maker, all of which allow
different features, and it’s worth noting that the learning curve is
slightly steeper than with certain drag and drop solutions.
Watch how to get started with RPG Maker in 15 mins.
- Good for artists
- Excellent tile editor
- WYSIWYG editor
- Helpful and passionate community
- Has simplified code
- Confusing versions with different features
- Not all versions can export to all platforms
- Slightly difficult for complete beginners
- Genre limitation
A few years ago, MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
developed a visual programming language called Scratch. It’s a fun
method to teach students how code works without overburdening them with
too much technical knowledge. The way it works is more like a puzzle,
where you have to find the right pieces to create actions and reactions
in your software. Well Stencyl
is based on this model, and as such is an excellent way to create a
simple game without coding, but in a way that should give you a good
understanding of how coding works! Unfortunately, it is very limited at
the moment, so don’t expect to build anything but a basic 2D game
(although some people claim you could build Stardew Valley with it).
Watch how to get started with Stencyl in 20 mins
- Good for simple games
- Teaches the basics of code
- Has “Kits” (ready made templates)
- Create pixel art in it
- Has little marketplace
- Exports natively for multiple platforms
- Subscription model
- Limited features
- Not ideal for smartphone games
What do games like Hotline Miami, Undertale and Hyper Light Drifter
have in common? Yes, they all sold millions of copies, and they were all
made using GameMaker Studio. This powerful simplified code engine supports
both 2D and 3D, but is more often used for 2D projects. One big
advantage is that it lets you create all the assets for your game so you
can quickly see how things look (of course you can also import them
from Photoshop or anywhere else). The drag and drop interface also makes
it ideal for quick prototyping, even for advanced game developers.
Watch how to get started with Game Maker Studio 2 in 20 mins.
||Hyper Light Drifter
|2D Point & Click Games
|2D Arcade Games
- Fairly fast learning curve
- Free trial and decent price tiers ($99 to $399 one of fee)
- Advanced features
- Great for artists
- Good marketplace
- Great tutorials and resources
- Costs extra to export for certain platforms such as Android or iOS
- Not fully drag and drop – you need to learn some basic code
- Own scripting language called Game Maker Language – if you learn how to script in GMS2, you will be limited
Honorable mention for 2D game engines:
- GDevApp (very basic games, extremely easy to use, export to web only)
- WiMi5 (visual scripting, builds HTML5 games, good for in app purchases, takes 30% of your profits)
Moving on to 3D game engines now, and GameGuru is probably one of the
easiest to use. That’s because the engine gives you 20 game templates
to start your own, from FPS to horror survival games, and it supports
multiplayer. You can easily create maps and manipulate certain settings
with sliders. The downside is that all games tend to look the same –
also, they only run on Windows.
Watch how to get started with GameGuru in 8 mins
|3D First Person Shooter
||The Big Escape (game template)
|3D Horror Game
- Games work pretty much out of the box
- 20 game templates
- Has marketplace
- Supports multiplayer
- Exports natively for multiple platforms
- Dated graphics
- Very limited features
- Windows only
- Only exports to Windows
Another basic engine that lets you click pieces together to create your 3D game. CopperCube 5 comes
with a terrain editor and lets you import your 3D assets from
elsewhere. Strangely enough, even though it’s not exactly powerful, it
has interesting support like the ability to export VR games for the
Watch how to get started with CopperCube 5 in 20 mins
|3D Survival Games
|3D Multiplayer Platformer
- Easy to use
- Visual editor
- Terrain editor
- Oculus Rift support
- Exports to PC, Mac and Android
- Dated graphics
- No console target
- Lack of tutorials
Ready to join the big leagues? This is where the action happens. Unity,
the game engine developed by Unity Technologies targets 27 platforms
including the latest consoles such as the Switch and all mobile phones.
This San Francisco company (who started in Denmark) now has more than 5
million registered developers who use the engine on a monthly basis.
While it is an extremely powerful platform that favours coders, there
are a number of solutions for beginners who want to use visual
scripting instead. These are all paying, but should give you all the
tools you need to get started. If this is the road you want to take, you
should therefore look at investing in beginner friendly plugins such as FlowCanvas, uScript, Adventure Creator or PlayMaker.
Watch how to get started with Unity in 20 mins
- One of the best Asset Stores with tons of free assets
- Excellent resources and tutorials
- Use it for free until you make more than $100K from your games
- Exhaustive list of platforms supported
- Good for learning C#
- Popular with indie developers
- Overwhelming for beginners
- Need paid plugins to avoid scripting
- Not the best toolkit for 2D games
- Self-centered engine – Unity users can’t really apply their skills anywhere else
Another hugely powerful engine, Unreal
was used to create AAA games such as Deus Ex, BioShock, Borderlands or
even the Final Fantasy VII remake. As you can see, it is a trusted
platform with a focus on spectacular graphics and lighting effects that
is trusted by big companies and indie developers alike.
Of course, you will need a big team of developers to complete big
projects like the ones mentioned above, but one advantage is that Unreal
comes with a beginner-friendly solution called Blueprint that lets you get started without any coding knowledge.
Watch how to get started with Unreal in 1 hour.
- Built-in beginner solution with Blueprint
- Multi-platform export including consoles
- Outstanding next-gen graphics
- Good online resources
- Free to use until your games make a profit
- Heavy and demanding on performance
- Even harder to pick up than Unity
- Marketplace not as full as Unity’s
- Royalty based payment system
Honorable mention for 3D game engines:
- Skyline (still in Beta, drag and drop, growing community, no mobile targets yet)
- 001 Game Creator (PC only, very basic, dated interface, ready made templates)
- CryEngine (highly realistic nature effects, requires knowledge of C++, has marketplace)
- PlayCanvas (like Unity’s younger sibling – lightweight and cloud based – very focused on team game development)
- Godot (increasingly popular for 2D and 3D, good for animations, has own coding language, hard for beginners)
As you can see, the market for beginner game engines is a fierce
battle ground, with new challengers popping up all the time. This is
particularly the case in the world of mobile app games, where a lot of
platforms want to offer you ready made solution, claiming that you can
easily create the next App Store hit.
However, if you are serious about game development, the market is
shrinking by the day. At the moment, it looks like Unity and Unreal are
the two main champions, and they are relied upon more and more by indie
developers and AAA studios alike. Sure, the learning curve is a bit
steeper, but once you get the hang of these products, you will truly
feel like your next game can be anything you want.
Did we miss anything? Have a preferred game engine? We’ll be
investigating more solutions in the future, so don’t hesitate to comment
/ ask questions below!