How Are Video Games Developed?
Video games synthesize a number of different artistic media: writing, music, digital art, and animation, all tethered together by code. For those who are interested in learning more about how to create a game, it can be confusing to know just where to begin.
The good news is, nowadays, anyone with a PC can become a game creator. Game development tools have become exceedingly accessible; many development platforms are free to download, and not all of them require a deep knowledge of a programming language or experience in coding.
If you’re an aspiring game developer, you’re in luck—it’s much easier to create a game than you might have originally thought. While some game developers start by learning how to mod their favorite games, the game engines of today are so capable that even beginners can use them to make a game from scratch.
Many larger game development studios will use their own proprietary engine for development. However, the engines listed below are not only powerful tools capable of fueling professional-grade experiences, but also perfectly proper for people who are working on their first project.
In this article, we’ll go over two of the most widely used development platforms—Unity* and Unreal Engine 4*—both of which you can use to get started working on your first game. Even if you’ve never designed a 3D model or written a line of code, don’t worry: We’re confident that you can create a game of your very own.
Introduction to Unity*
Unity* is one of the world’s most popular game engines, utilized by game developers, and digital artists alike. Games made with Unity’s* engine include Hearthstone*, Cuphead*, and Subnautica*. Its “personal” licensing option is free, while the “plus,” “pro,” and “enterprise” options are each paid.
Unity* is best known for its accessibility, its expansive documentation, and its highly enthusiastic and generous community of creators. On top of that, Unity* makes cross-platform development incredibly simple, and even supports dedicated interfaces for developing games in either 2D or 3D. It’s a great platform for beginners in part because it leaves them ample room to grow.
How to Use Unity
Unity’s* scripting is based in the popular programming language C#. If you’ve never coded before, Unity* features a number of tutorials that guide you through writing scripts from scratch and are each sorted by difficulty. Many of these tutorials are intended to result in fully fledged games, so they’re perfect for both introducing new coding concepts and building up your confidence as a burgeoning game designer. Unity’s* user manual is also chock-full of helpful insights, examples, and references to tutorials.
Additionally, if you don’t have any interest in learning to code on a deeper level, Unity* also has an incredibly robust asset store that features all the building blocks you could need to start crafting your own game, including 3D & 2D models, audio, shaders, editor extensions, templates, scripts, and a number of other helpful tools.
Unity* really excels when it comes to its passionate community, however. Unity’s* online hub hosts forums, a Q&A-based community site, and a platform for user groups. If you’re somehow unable to find an answer to your question in Unity’s* comprehensive documentation, simply typing the keywords related to your issue into the search bar at the top of Unity’s website will likely yield a number of posts in which Unity* users offer relevant solutions to the problem at hand.
From its inception, Unity* has strived to help democratize game development and help ensure that people of all backgrounds can have access to the tools they need to make their dream projects. It’s a terrific platform for beginners while providing you with essential resources you need to excel, whether you’re a hobbyist or an aspiring professional developer.
Introduction to Unreal Engine 4*
The Unreal Engine* is owned by Epic Games*, who used it to develop their own games, including Fortnite*, Gears of War*, and Infinity Blade*. The game engine was also used in the development of some of the biggest PC games of the past year like Ace Combat 7*: Skies Unknown*, Tropico 6*, and Crackdown 3*. Unreal Engine 4* was made free to download in 2015, though Epic* asks for a 5% royalty on all gross revenue for shipped games and applications after the first $3,000 per quarter.2
The Unreal Engine* is widely regarded as a powerhouse for generating graphics on par with AAA games. The feature reel they showcased at GDC 2018 speaks for itself. From photorealistic facial animations to complex, physically accurate rendering, the engine is capable of some pretty awe-inspiring stuff.
How to Use Unreal Engine 4*
The Unreal Engine* sports an accessible, easily navigable UI, and a handful of helpful project templates that can either serve as building blocks for your own game or simply demonstrate the capabilities of the platform. Just like Unity*, the Unreal Engine* comes fully equipped with the essentials you need to build and ship a complete game.
You don’t need to be an expert coder to use it, either. Unreal Engine* has a particularly beginner-friendly system called “Blueprint Visual Scripting*,” which generates prototypes and visualizations quickly without having to write a single line of code. This is especially powerful when considering that these tools and processes are typically solely available to programmers. Blueprint Visual Scripting* encourages designers from a wider range of backgrounds to bring their ideas to fruition through Unreal Engine*.
The system lets users link “nodes” together in order to create gameplay elements. Each node contains a function, event, or variable that can be strung to another. For beginners, it’s also a useful system for getting to know game design concepts without needing to understand the code behind them.
However, once you’re ready to start writing your own scripts, the Unreal Engine* is based on C++, a programming language that’s backed by a wealth of educational resources. Just like Unity*, Unreal also has a marketplace that offers a number of assets, plug-ins, and other tools for your use.
Additionally, in 2018, Intel partnered with Unreal* to help ensure the engine was optimized for PC gameplay. Previously, developers often designed games for console gameplay, effectively letting the untapped potential of PC platforms go to waste. With the help of Intel, the Unreal Engine* is now equipped to develop games with the capacity to take full advantage of PCs’ processing power. This affects things like physics simulation, AI, lighting, audio, and much more.
Unreal* has the potential to push the boundaries of graphical capabilities, CPU optimization, and overall PC performance. It’s also especially worth checking out if visual scripting via the Blueprint system seems compatible with your design process.
Which One Should I Choose?
Both of these game engines are incredibly powerful in the right hands and are equally viable for kickstarting your career as a game designer. Since they’re both free to download for individuals, our advice is to give them both a shot and see which one suits your style.
If you’re new to coding, you could also let their scripting systems decide for you. If the C#-friendly Unity* feels easier to pick up, then you should use Unity*; if the C++/Blueprint visual scripting system seems more up your alley, you should use Unreal*. There are also a plethora of tutorials for both game engines across YouTube* and sites like Udemy*. Poke around the introduction videos to different tutorial series and see which UI might be easier on your eyes.
Regardless, no decision you make is completely irreversible. If you find that the engine you chose just doesn’t feel right, you can always port your assets and design concepts to the other engine. You might have to rewrite some scripts, but doing so will only help increase your expertise in the new engine.
What You’ll Need
Luckily, both Unity* and Unreal Engine 4* are designed to run on a wide variety of machines. Nowadays, game development is possible on just about any average desktop PC or laptop. Keep in mind, however, that a lot of this depends on the nature and scope of your project. Developing in 3D is far more demanding than developing in 2D, and just because your PC can run Unity* or Unreal Engine 4*, that doesn’t mean it’ll be the wrinkle-free experience you might need for your own creative process.
No matter what your project is, you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a strong CPU to game development. Multithreading is especially helpful with compiling and rendering times, which could help if you’re rendering a scene in a hurry. We recommend using the latest Intel® Core™ i7 processor or higher. Having access to a decent amount of cores and processing threads as well as a heightened frequency will help save you hours of twiddling your thumbs and waiting for your work to render and compile.
Time to Get to Work!
Now that you know more about both Unity* and Unreal Engine 4*, what’s stopping you from visiting their download pages and checking them out today? We highly recommend that you consult their documentation for introductory tutorials. If, at the end of your session, you’re able to build and run an application of your own making—then, congratulations! You know how to create a game. To learn more about how to make that game fun, on the other hand, check out our beginner’s guide to game design.