The Best Game Engines for Making Your Own 2D Indie Game

With most of us now carrying around a phone which has better processing capabilities than any previous generation consoles, there’s a lot of opportunity as an independent developer to create a casual game that will get picked up and played.

It isn’t big top-level games being played on phones, but some simple, engaging and entertaining titles that have also seen a revival in indie development.

The Best Game Engines for Making Your Own 2D Indie Game

Are you thinking about tackling development of your own indie game? It might be a terrifying thought, so it can feeling daunting to need to learn so much to make your game idea a reality. It is no easy task. But, the advice to beginners is most certainly to just jump in and do it!

One of the first things to consider is which game development engine you will use – that is the dedicated software, or program, for creating games. These engines have made development for small teams of 2-4 people to develop a game in only a few months, and development accessible to absolute beginners.

Here we list our recommendations for the top 4 game engines you should test. Some of these will certainly be able to take you well beyond just mobile games.

There isn’t a single best engine to choose, so you just need to find the one that suits you and your project. Some of the points to think about to help you decide are:

  • What type of games are you going to create?
  • What level of technical skill you possess
  • How much you wish to invest.
  • What your long-term goal for game development is.

Keep in mind that for most of these you will still need other software for such things as asset creation, 3D modeling, sound recording and mixing, and debugging.

Unity 5 by Unity Technologies

Platforms: Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, Linux, Mac, PC, XBOX and Playstation

This game engine might be the king of indie development, is powerful and excels at creating 2D and 3D games Unity has been the underlying architecture for such phenomenally successful titles as Angry Birds and Temple Run. Other games include- Hearthstone, Cuphead, Ori and the Blind Forest, and West of Loathing.

Unity is supported by a solid community of developers working with it creating mobile apps and games, it is updated regularly and has a well-stocked asset store. Unity has a steep but, not unattainable learning curve – you can also choose between using C++ and Boo (a dialect of JavaScript) & there are many online learning resources. It is possible to avoid coding, and use visual scripting instead, but you will have to subscribe to access these options.

The graphics output is very good, although not as good as some other engines. For 2D games, it is certainly more than capable, and it works for many 3D games as well. Custom shaders can be used to make a more realistic output, but these require a higher level of programming knowledge.

Pricing for Unity is a little more expensive than other options. There is a free license, but to customize some screens and brand your game you will need to upgrade to Unity Plus for $35/month or Unity Pro for $125/month.

Unreal Engine 4 by Epic Games

Platforms: Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, Linux, Mac, PC, XBOX and Playstation

Unreal is another well-known game engine on the market. It was originally developed for first-person shooters, but it has been successfully used for other genres too, including stealth, MMORPGs and other RPGs.

Unreal excels at producing very high-quality graphics and handles complex, detailed graphics very well – you can create amazing visualizations, simulations, and digital films. As you would expect, Unreal Engine offers custom lighting, shading, VFX and cinematic systems. There are no limits to what you can create with Unreal Engine technology. The game engine is filled with everything you need, and there’s no need to hunt down assets, content or example elsewhere.

Being so popular, you will also find a huge amount of support and video tutorials online. Unreal has a very indie friendly pricing model too. You can get the whole engine for free, then you pay a 5% royalty on sales after the first $3000 per quarter.

A couple of disadvantages of Unreal is that it produces large games, and it also has a pretty heavy learning curve. It has been used to make top games like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. If you are only considering building games for mobile platforms, Unreal might be more than you need and Unity would be a better option.

GameMaker Studio by Yo Yo Games

Platforms: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, PC, XBOX and Playstation

This power is a powerful simplified code engine which is most often used for 2D games on mobile platforms, though it has support for both 2D and 3D games. It has a fast learning curve and comes in several different versions – all tailored to different types of games. ‘Hyper Light Drifter’ and ‘Undertale’ are two notable examples of games created with GameMaker.

One great thing about GameMaker is that it contains a visual editor that lets you create all the assets for your game, so it is great for artists and easy to see how your work will look. Though of course, you can also import assets you created elsewhere. It has a drag and drop interface, which makes it good for fast prototyping, though you will still need to learn some code. It uses its own language called Game Maker Language, and if you learn to code here you will be limited. Again it has good online resources.

Free trial software and then only a one-off fee of $99 – $399. You will need to pay extra to export to Android or iOS.

Construct 2 by Scirra

Platform: Windows

A construct is a very intuitive PC based drag and drop for creating 2D games, which is the easiest on the list to use, and a very good option for game development beginners. It also is suitable for quick game mock-ups and for artists who don’t want to get anywhere near programming.

If you work on a PC the engine will look super familiar, as it is similar to Microsoft programs, and it is an easy learning curve, so well suited to beginners. It has very good community support, but its disadvantage is that there is no Mac version. In the free version, you can only export HTML 5, so playable in browsers only on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. For a game to work on Android or iOS a three-party service will be required for conversion. The licensed versions support multiplatform export with Construct 2’s own HTML5-based engine.

There’s a free trial version. The personal license is $200, and a business license for $500.

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