Update #3 (July 28, 2016): This post has been completely updated with 7 new, additional game engines, updated links and information that was outdated.
Update #2 (April 27, 2015): This post was been updated with one new additional game engine, updated links and information that was outdated.
Update #1 (December 12, 2012): Originally published and featured a list of 15 game engines.
If you ever wanted to take your skill further into game development and game design, you will need to begin exploring the world of game engines. Game engines will provide you with the framework that game designers use to create games.
Make sure to check out all the tutorials within this series listed below:
Level Editors/Game Engines Series:
23 Recommended and Available 3D Game Engines
What is a game engine?
"The core functionality typically provided by a game engine includes a rendering engine ("renderer") for 2D or 3D graphics, a physics engine or collision detection (and collision response), sound, scripting, animation, artificial intelligence, networking, streaming, memory management, threading, localization support, and a scene graph. The process of game development is often economized, in large part, by reusing/adapting the same game engine to create different games, or to make it easier to "port" games to multiple platforms." - (wikipedia.org/Game Engine)
Few examples of games and game engines used to create them are:
Games: Dota 2, Half Life 2 series, Counter-Strike: Source, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Left4Dead, Left4Dead 2, Portal 1 and 2
Game Engine: Source Engine
Game: Hitman Absolution
Game Engine: Glacier 2
Game: Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3, Need for Speed: The Run
Game Engine: FrostBite
Games: Mass Effect Series, Dishonored, Bioshock Infinite, Batman: Arkham Asylum and City and hundreds more
Game Engine: Unreal Engine
Game: Crysis 2 and 3
Game Engine: CryEngine
Not every game engine is available to download without paying for a license first. However there are many affordable, free, open source and non-commercial versions that you could work with and download right now.
In this blog post I will provide you with options and links to 3D game engines, their features and download page so you can make a better decision on which one is right for you.
Criteria used to include a 3D game engine in this list were:
- Available to download
- Affordable, free (easy access) or open source
- I have used it myself and recommend
So, for those who are interested in going a bit further into game development, to explore new technologies to showcase your game environments in or just curious behind game engine technology; here are 22 suggestions for game engines you can get your hands on right now.
3D for 2D
Following list is for 3d game engines. Any 3D game engine can be used to create 2d games. Although using a 3d game engine to create a 2d game can often be excessive. If you are looking for recommended 2D game engines, see this post (Coming Soon.)
Overview List: Recommended 3D Game Engines
Here is the full list of game engines in this article:
- Unreal Engine 4
- Unreal Engine 3 (UDK)
- CryEngine V
- Unity 3D
- Source Engine/Source SDK
- Source 2
- Tomstone Engine (C4Engine)
- Shive 3D
- Panda 3D
- Esenthel Engine
- iDTech 4
- Game Guru
- jMonkey Game Engine
- Hero Engine
- Game Studio
- Serious Engine
- Irrlicht Engine
Unreal Engine 4
Company: Epic Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac OSX, iOS, Android, VR (including but not limited to SteamVR/HTC Vive, Morpheus, Oculus Rift and Gear VR), Linux, SteamOS, HTML5, PS4, Xbox One
Unreal Engine 4 is a complete suite of game development tools. From 2D mobile games to console to VR, UE4 provides you with everything you need to start, create and ship a game.
Epic regularly releases new versions which include updates, improved features, community contributions and bug fixes.
Once you ship your game or application, you pay Epic 5% of gross revenue after the first $3,000 per product per calendar quarter. See this FAQ for more info.
Note from WoLD: I use and recommend UE4 as the game engine of choice. See Unreal Engine 4 tutorials list here.
Tutorial: Follow this tutorial on how to download and install UE4
Unreal Engine 3
Company: Epic Games
Platforms: Windows, iOS, Mac OSX
Unreal Engine 3 is the complete toolset to create your own games. Although there is a newer Unreal Engine 4 version out. It is still a very versatile and has been used to create many triple A games such as: Batman: Arkham City, Gears of War Series, Borderlands Series. For a full list of games that used Unreal Engine 3 go here.
UDK is no longer being updated or supported but it was one of my favorite engines to work with before Unreal Engine 4 came out.
There are a lot of tutorials out there for UDK and you can still get your hands on the game engine. Although it is very likely you will go with the newer Unreal Engine 4.
Platforms: Windows, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Open-Source VR and PlayStation VR
Crytek completely revamped CryEngine in 2016.
Originally it was called CryEngine 3 SDK and now it is CryEngine V.
Cryengine V has now become available as a "pay what you want" service, allowing the user to set their own price. If you like the service CryEngine provides then you can contribute to its ongoing development. That is pretty amazing deal.
CryEngine features include full engine source code, fully commercialization, 100% royalty-free, access to all supported platforms and ready for VR development.
CryEngine has been used in games such as Crysis 2, Crysis 3, Evolve, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 and 3, and Homefront: The Revolution.
Just like Unreal Engine 4, CryEngine is the complete toolset for game development. It engine has been used as a benchmark for visual graphics for some time and it continues to push the limit what games are capable of.
Company: Unity Technologies
Platforms: Windows, Mac OSX, Linus, Android, BlackBerry, iOS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Unity Web Player, Wii, Wii U, Windows Phone 8, Xbox 360, and Xbox One
Unity3D has been a very popular choice among developers. Full game engine featuring everything you would need to create 3d or 2d games with multi-platform support right out of the box. Great game engine to get into and begin using. Unity has a free indie version as well as commercial license version.
Source Engine / Source SDK
Company: Valve Corporation
Source Engine has been used extensively in the modding community with hundreds if not thousands of mods available. Source Engine is a bit outdated, yet still very powerful. It has been used to create games such as Half Life 2 series, Counter-Strike: Source, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Left4Dead, Left4Dead 2, Portal 1 and 2.
Each game has a huge community behind it with new content always being released. I love using Source Engine because of its games. You can get your hands on the engine by downloading any of Valve's released games on Steam.
Eventually Source is going to get an update to Source 2 with unconfirmed and possible releases of Half-Life 3 and Left4Dead 3.
I can't wait for the day that happens.
Download: See this tutorial on how to download Source SDK for a specific game
Company: Valve Corporation
Source Engine 2 will be coming out in a near future.
No word on when yet, but it will be available to the public just as Source is. Valve Software has always been very indie game dev and level design friendly.
I expect nothing less from Valve with Source 2.
Platforms: Windows, Linux, SteamOS
Leadwerks is an OpenGL, 3d game engine. It features deferred lighting system, Screen Space Ambient Occlusion which simulates real-time global illumination, advanced shaders, support for huge terrains, new vegetation system, built-in level design tools, integrated LUA script editor and much more.
Leadwerks game engine is available on Steam and you can try out a demo before you purchase it.
Company: Garage Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac OSX, Linux
Torque 3D is an open source game engine and has been an independent dev favorite for quiet some time. Originally the game engine was developed for 2001 FPS shooter, Tribes 2.
Some features include a world editor, Collada support, per pixel dynamic lighting, normal and parallax occlusion mapping, reflections, sky system, physX, multiple platform publishing and access to source code.
Here is documentation on getting started with Torque 3D.
Download: garagegames.com/products/torque-3d/ (download Binary for executable or Source for source code)
Company: NeoAxis Group Ltd.
Platforms: Windows, Mac OSX
Neoaxis has all the features of a modern engine such as advanced material and shading support, real-time shadows, built-in Nvidia physX, current/next-gen rendering, full set of screen effects, built-in network support and pathfinding components. It comes with complete pipeline SDK, including resource and map editor, import resources for Maya and 3dsMax.
NeoAxis 3D Engine is a free product. The SDK includes all capabilities of the engine. There are two paid licenses that open access to the source codes of the engine.
Tombstone Engine (formerly known as C4Engine)
Company: Terathon Software
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, iOS
The Tombstone Engine is the successor to the C4 Engine.
Primary features include full-scene dynamic lighting and shadows. World editor runs as an engine plugin and uses the engine's own user interface system. Large variety of built-in shading features (bump/normal mapping, parallax bump texture mapping, horizon bump shadow mapping, reflection and refraction and more). Voxel terrain based on voxel maps that can be edited in real time. As well as standard features such as script editor, special effects, world manager, scene graph, physics and tools for art pipeline creation.
Company: ShiVa Technologies SAS
Platforms: Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, Android, Blackberry, iOS, PlayStation 4, PlayStation3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Vita, Wii, Windows Phone, Web Browsers
Shiva3D is a 3d game engine that is designed for web, console and mobile games and applications. Engine can run in OpenGL, DirecX and software modes. Some features include Nvidia physX, compound dynamic body, point light shadows, per-vertex per-pixel and lightmapping. Shiva3D has a free web edition of the engine, with ability to publish your games online as well as full licenses.
Shiva3D 2.0 is being developed, with version 1.9 still available to download.
Company: Walt Disney Imagineering, Carnegie Mellon University
Platforms: Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, FreeBSD
Panda3D is open source game engine and 3d rendering engine using Python and C++. Some features include physics, particle effects, GUI creation, AI, OpenGL/DirectX, render to texture and advanced shaders (normals, gloss, glow maps, HDR, cel shading).
Company: Esenthel/Grzegorz Slazinski
Platforms: Windows, Windows Phone, Xbox, Mac OS, iOS, Android, Linux, Web
Esenthel Engine is the next-gen game engine.
It includes collaborative editor. Code editor which is integrated with the engine's editor and automatically handles compilation for all platforms. Advanced graphics and physics with wide range of device support. It is powered by Nvidia PhysX allows complex physics simulations having thousands of dynamic objects on the scene real-time. Supports plenty of graphical effects, such as - Bloom, Real-time Dynamic Shadows, Ambient Occlusion, Motion Blur, Depth of Field, Glow, Sun Rays, Fog, Cel Shading, Normal Mapping, Parallax Mapping, Relief Mapping, Tessellation, FXAA / MLAA / SMAA Anti-Aliasing and many more!
You can also try and buy Esenthel Engine on Steam.
Platforms: Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 3, Xbox, Xbox 360
idTech4 is a game engine that powers games such as Doom 3, Quake 4, Prey and Brink. It is also known as Doom 3 Engine.
John Carmack released idTech 4 source code at the end of 2011 as open source.
Some features of idTech4 include per-pixel lighting, unified lighting and shadowing, shadow volumes and mega texture.
Platforms: Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation, (iOS, Android, Mac, Linux - coming soon)
Lumberyard is a free cross-platform game engine developed by Amazon and based on the architecture of CryEngine. It is integrated with Amazon Web Services which allows you build and host games on Amazon's servers.
Some features include C++ source code, character tools, terrain tools, robust networking, Audiokinetic's sound engine, real-time gameplay editor, powerful rendering technology and authoring tools to create photorealistic 3D environments. Real-time effects, including physically based shaders, dynamic global illumination, a particle effects editor, vegetation tools, real-time dynamic water caustics, volumetric fog, and filmic features such as color grading, motion blur, depth of field, HDR lens flares, and more.
Company: The Game Creators
Game Guru defines itself as a game creator allowing you to build your own worlds with easy to use tools. Populate the worlds with characters, weapons, ammo and other game items, then, by pressing one button your game is built and ready to play. With Game Guru you can make a multiplayer game in a few minutes, including hosting and sharing your game online via Steam multiplayer.
GameGuru comes with 10+ game demos to play and learn from. They will show you what can be created and how.
Game Guru allows you to focus on designing your games without worrying about the inside of the game engine.
Some features include easy to use, drag & drop style, terrain tools, vegetation system, rendering engine, cascade shadow mapping, occlusion culling system, sky maps, baked shadowing, physics, game character and weapon customization, AI, ready to use weapons and items, multiplayer on Steam, save stand standalone single player games as executable files and a lot more.
jMonkey Game Engine
Company: The jME Core Team
Platforms: Windows, OSX, Linux, Android, iOS, Oculus Rift
jMonkeyEngine is java based 3d game engine which uses shader technology extensively with LWJGL as its default renderer. It is open source game engine under the new BSD license. jMonkeyEngine is not just a visual RPG Maker or an FPS modder. It is a full game engine and Java programming knowledge is required and it can be a great starting point for any 3D games developer.
The BSD License means you are free to do whatever you'd like with the code.
Some features include regular ways to simulate candle light, sun light, flashlights, global lights, PSSM and SSAO shadows. Material system is entirely shader-based. Wide array of special effects through the use of post processor filters and particle emitters with ability to emulate water, fog, light scattering and explosions and a lot more.
Company: Idea Fabrik Plc
HeroEngine is a 3D game engine and server technology originally developed for MMO-style games. You may have experienced Hero Engine in Star Wars: The Old Republic. It is the complete development platform for online games.
Although don't think of HeroEngine as MMO-RPGs engine. It can create wide variety of online games from strategy game to first person shooters.
It seamlessly integrates the entire client and server architecture needed to operate an online game directly into the development process. Game studios such as EA, Bioware, and ZeniMax Online have used HeroEngine.
HeroEngine contains all the tools you expect from a modern game engine such as world building, scripting, 3D rendering and physics. But for all complete features visit the link below.
Company: Conitec Datasystems
GameStudio is an authoring system for interactive 2D and 3D applications. These include multimedia tools, video games and simulations
It offers 3 levels of access in one package: beginner, advanced and professional.
Some features include Adaptive Binary Tree rendering engine that allows for seamless indoor/outdoor scenery and up to 200,000 objects per scene. BSP, Static and dynamic shadow lighting and mapping, decals, stencils, seamless LOD terrain renderer, fog areas, camera portals, reflections, mirrors, detail textures, texture compression, particle effects, physics and collision, 2d engine, sound engine, network and game engine and much more.
Note that GameStudio is not to be confused with Game Maker: Studio from YoYo Games.
Platforms: Windows, Xbox, Linux, Mac OSX
Serious Engine is the original 2001 game engine used to create the classic Serious Sam games such as Serious Sam: The First Encounter, Serious Sam: The Second Encounter and Serious Sam Xbox.
Croteam has released open-source version of the Serious Engine.
It features the ability to render very long distances, large open worlds with large amount of enemies rendered on-screen at once, along with realistic shadows and lighting effects. It also supports high-quality terrain models, portals, sunglares, real-time level preview, fog, haze, real-time shadows and more.
With open source version you get Serious Engine 1.10, GUI tools, class compiler, files to run a dedicated server, built-in modeler, game's executable, and LightWave 3D model exporter.
Note: Serious Engine is currently in its fourth version, Serious Engine 4 and is used to create "The Talos Principle" game.
Company: Blender Foundation
Platforms: Windows, Mac OSX, Linux
Blender is a free and open-source 3D content creation suite. It includes tools for animation, compositing, 3D modeling, uv unwrapping, texturing, rigging and skinning, fluid and smoke, particle system, physics and rendering.
It is mostly known for modeling and animation but it also contains a game engine.
Blender game engine features graphical logic editor for defining interactive behavior without programming, collision detection, dynamics simulation, support for vehicle dynamics, all OpenGL lighting modes including transparencies, Python scripting, multi-materials, multitexture and texture blending modes, per-pixel lighting, dynamic lighting, mapping modes, GLSL vertex paint texture blending, toon shading, animated materials, support for Normal Mapping and Parallax Mapping and a lot more.
Company: Nikolaus Gebhardt et al
Platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, Windows CE
The Irrlicht Engine is an open source real-time 3d rendering graphics engine using Direct3D and OpenGL.
Irrlicht is not a game engine but a 3d rendering engine. It allows game developers to utilize rendering graphics framework for 3D graphics into their own engine.
Irrlicht features include real-time 3D rendering using Direct3D and OpenGL, vertex, pixel, and geometry shader support, seamless indoor and outdoor mixing, character animation system with skeletal and morph target animation, dynamic shadows, particle system, collision detection, lightmapping, direct import of common 3d mesh file formats and it is platform independent. More features can be found using the link below.
Company: The OGRE Team
Platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, Android, iOS, Windows Phone, WinRT support
Ogre3D is an open-source rendering engine. Just like Irrlicht, it is not a game engine, but a 3d rendering engine. It allows game developers to utilize rendering graphics framework for 3D graphics into their own engine.
Ogre3D features include Direct3D 9 & 11, OpenGL, materials and shaders, object-oriented design, multi-platform with OpenGL and Direct3D support, landscape scene manager, animation engine and content exporters for most 3d modeling software and much more.
For a full list of various game engines see the following links:
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