Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Guest Post: Random Gamer on Choosing Your Game Engine, Pt 1

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 18, 2013

Today’s (and tomorrow’s) post comes from Chris “Random Gamer” Rovers, a long-time regular here in the Rampant Games community. An experienced developer in the “real world,” he’s got some lessons to share about picking the right tool to fit your game project (or vice versa). You can read part 2 here.

I’m one of those indie-developer-wanna-bes, though I’m hopeful that this time, for real, I’ve got a project I’ll push to release.  There’s a lot of reasons why projects die (and I’m not going to get into all of them), but one of the big issues I had was trying to match the wrong project with the wrong game engine and the wrong game engine with the wrong art pipeline.  So that’s what I’d like to talk about – some of the lessons I’ve learned, some of the engines I’ve explored, and some things to think about if you decide to go down this path.

The first big lesson, which I guess should have been obvious, is know yourself.  Know what sort of developer you are.  Professionally, I program in Java in a multi-million lines of code enterprise business application – my skills are primarily in data manipulation engines and the underlying guts of things.  I’m not an artist nor a 3d modeller, though I can write descriptions and text reasonably well.  I’m also not an interface guru.  Those weaknesses aren’t a great thing in a one-person team, but they are where I am and many of the false-starts I made were from failing to match what I was trying to do with what I was good at.

The next lesson learned concerns art pipeline.  If you’re a one person shop, you’re going to be doing your art end-to-end – from concept to execution to conversion to whatever format your engine is going to require.  Yes, you can buy art, but unless you’ve got a significant budget, you’ll be doing lots yourself.  That means at every stage, you need tools you can work with, that you can .be productive in.  I have discovered that two of the most popular open source tools simply don’t work for me – GIMP (the open source image editor) and Blender (open source 3D modelling software) seem to work in ways that my brain does not.  Several of my projects were going to require me to work with those tools and though many developers seem to be successful with them, it seems I’m not going to be one of them.  Thus, my major lesson is that when you’re evaluating a game engine and choosing a game to make, make sure that you check out the pipelines that you’ll need to use and that everything works end to end in a way that you’re going to be happy doing over and over.

That brings us to game engines. Many of the game projects I’ve started (and the project I’m currently working on) are procedural in nature and I tried on several occasions to cram a procedural game into a game engine that expects designed and built levels.  Don’t.  Just don’t.  Match the game engine to what you are doing.  For me, I’ve found that I get frustrated by game engines that try to do too much, so less is more for me.  Your preferences may vary, but there are so many game engines out there, you don’t need to compromise on this.  Keep looking around till you find something that works for you and for the game you want to make.  In the next part,  I’ll give a quick run through of a few of the engines I’ve played with and the projects that started and ended with them.  I’ll end with describing the engine and tools I’m using for the current project.

Filed Under: Game Development, Guest Posts - Comments: 6 Comments to Read

  • McNutcase said,

    It’s a constant mystery to me how anybody is capable of using Blender. I see it as something like Dwarf Fortress; if you got into it back when it was learnable, you can create wonderful things, but trying to get into it now is a recipe for frustration and insanity…

  • Nikola (Blogging Games) said,

    Gimp works for me (unlike Paint.NET) but another great tool I’ve recently discovered is Pickle (http://www.pickleeditor.com/). It’s perfect for cheap, simple and quick pixel art, which is what I usually need with my gamedev experiments, and which usually ends up being my doom.

    I got it off /r/gamedev a few days ago and I love it since!

    As for audio, I’m still at a loss there. I tried those 8-bit noise generators, but other than that, I’m having difficulty finding anything that works for me.

    As far as engines go, I’m still very much learning, so I’m doing my own thing in XNA/Monogame. I’m still teaching myself design patterns at this point.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Some good tutorial videos was all it took for me. I’m still not GREAT at it (but then, I’m not great at anything else, either). But I’m fairly comfortable around the older versions. Need to force myself to get better at the new version.

  • CdrJameson said,


    Looking forward to this as I’ve been scratching my head at some game engines and thinking about what they need to support.

    Seems like there’s two main strands – art-based and code based – with art based ones having visual development environments that try to hide the scary programming stuff and code based ones being basically libraries and rely on artists to just provide files.

  • Xenovore said,

    Indie developers are quite lucky these days; there are a lot of free/inexpensive resources available to us…

    There is a shload of free audio online, both sound effects and music. There is also a shload of inexpensive, royalty-free audio online.

    A good waveform editor is essential. I use Audacity for editing/creating sound effects. There are also plenty of other good, free/inexpensive tools out there; e.g. Synthtopia lists a bunch.

    3D Editors:
    IMHO, there are much better alternatives to Blender. While Blender is full-featured, the UI sucks; it ignores standards that have been in place since the dawn of CAD, and even if you manage to get used to it, it’s way more fiddly than it should be. (Like to memorize hotkeys much?) You will likely waste a lot of time trying to figure it out, and get rather frustrated with it. (That was my experience.)

    I much prefer trueSpace. It’s UI is also somewhat non-standard, but is far more intuitive to use. There’s only a handful of things you need to know before you can interact with pretty much any part of it. I was able to start building actual, usable, static models within 10 minutes of installing it. It’s full-featured, highly customizable and scriptable, and supports Collada. It has a first-person WASD walkthrough mode that is quite handy. The only potential issue is the lack of official support, but there is plenty of 3rd-party support online, including tutorial vids.

    Google Sketchup is also quite easy to use, but lacks features like character animation.

    For 3D sculpting, I highly recommend Sculptris. It’s not as full-featured as ZBrush, but you can still achieve great results with it. (And with a $699 cheaper price tag.)

    2D Editors:
    GIMP is pretty good for image manipulation and basic painting. However, GIMP’s UI is wonky with it’s way of basically taking over your desktop with its windows; I’m not a huge fan.

    Inkscape is a very good alternative to Adobe Illustrator; I highly recommend it.

    For digital painting I recommend the Project Dogwaffle tools. The UI isn’t the greatest, but the painting features are extensive, including a lot of very cool procedural tools which I haven’t seen anywhere else. Definitely give it a try.

    Game engines:
    Of course I have to evangelize Torque a bit. For full-featured, open source engines, you can’t beat ’em.

  • RandomGamer said,

    @CdrJameson – hope part 2 was useful for you. I think you can, as you say, split into those two strands, and each has advantages and disadvantages. What I’m hoping to accomplish with these two articles is show where each engine stumbled for me, with what I wanted to do with it, and hope that my failures can help people realize up front whether an engine is going to be suitable for them.