Categories: Game Development

Best Indie Game Engines for Indie Developers (free included)

As an aspiring or a seasoned game developer, you ought to be drawn to the concept of indie games. So, before se start talking about how you can make one, let’s define what is it first.

An indie game (a.k.a independent game) is a video game that is developed and published by indie developers or small teams without the financial support of a large publisher (say like a AAA game studio). These games are often created using indie game engines and limited resources. They are typically released digitally through online platforms (such as Steam or the App Store). Many indie games are known for their unique and creative gameplay, as well as their focus on storytelling and art. Some examples are:

  • Minecraft: one of the most popular sandbox game that allows players to build and explore a block-based world. It was developed by Mojang Studios and released in 2011.
  • Undertale: released in 2015, this is a super popular RPG developed by Toby Fox. It was acclaimed for its unique combat system, memorable characters, and strong storytelling.
  • Limbo: this is one of my absolute favorites; a puzzle-platformer game that was released in 2010. Developed by Playdead, it comes to you with a dark minimalistic art style, a creepy nightmare-like atmosphere, and challenging puzzles that you’ll definitely enjoy as much as I did.

How can indie game engines be useful?

When you are an indie game developer, you might have little funding that you need to spend wisely, or no funding at all. You might also be a very small team, or just one person that needs to wear many hats to get the job done. For this reason, you might want to get a reliable engine that is low cost or makes certain aspects of game development that you can’t do, as a small team or as one person, much easier.

Luckily for us in this day and age there are indie game engines that can do that for us, and in this post we compiled a list of the most prominent ones we could find. 

1. Unity

Unity is arguably the most used and loved engine of indie game developers, due to its many perks and features. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and let’s start from the beginning.

Unity is a game engine used to make both 2D and 3D games, so immediately you have both options available. It works on Mac, Windows and Linux systems and can deploy games on a plethora of supported systems such as Playstation, MacOs, and Android and many many more. So, you also have all options available in that department as well.

Another great thing about Unity is the fact that it is free to use, up until your revenues exceed 100k USD, then you will have to upgrade your license to Unity Pro, which provides you with different offers that you can choose from.

All in all, Unity is free, fully equipped to deal with both 2D and 3D games and can work on the most popular operating system and deploy games on most platforms. The engine also has a huge community based around it, and so naturally you can find a lot of educational material to start your journey if you happen to be just starting out.

All of this makes Unity one of the best game engines to start developing your game on. So, have a go at it! We also put together a list of free game engines if that’s something of interest to you.

2. Godot Engine

Godot Engine is a free as well as an open source video game engine. It runs on Windows, Linux, MacOs and BSD. It can deploy games on desktop, web platforms and Android.

The engine supports a number of scripting languages, most prominent are C++ and C#. Godot has a dedicated 2D engine, but of course can also help you develop 3D games. We made an extensive list of game engines that are best suited for 2D games if that’s what you’re aiming to make.

Some of the engine’s other features include, but are not limited to, hundreds of built-in nodes, flexible scene system, full principled BSDF, a visual editor, an easy-to-use shader language, a tile map editor, and the ability to easily create custom tools; and all of this is just the tip of the iceberg!

With a feature-rich, free and easy-to-use software such as Godot, you are in luck as an indie game developer, so we highly recommend you check it out! 

3. Unreal Engine

Developed by the creators of Fortnite, Unreal Engine is one of the best video game engines of all time. The engine helped make countless iconic video games, Deus Ex, Bioshock, Mass Effects. You name it, Unreal probably made it.

Let’s start from the beginning, Unreal Engine is a free video game engine. It is free to download and comes ready to use.

The games made using the engine can be subject to a 5% royalty if the lifetime gross revenue from that game exceeds $1 million USD. While Unreal Engine can be used to produce 2D games, it seems to be focused on 3D games, so keep this in mind if your game is 2D. 

4. Monogame

If you are a fan of the fun and sweet Stardew Valley, or the intriguing and mysterious Celeste and you want to create a similar experience, then you are in luck because Monogame helped make these games!

Monogame is a framework for game development. Wait a second, we said a “framework” and not an “engine”. Why? And what’s the difference? Well the Monogame website puts it beautifully and simply:

Monogame is a “bring your own tools” kind of framework, which means that it provides the building blocks to build your own engine and tools, but it isn’t quite an engine itself. If you are expecting a scene editor (like Unity or Unreal), Monogame is not that. If you love coding and understanding how things work under the hood, Monogame might be what you are looking for…

The framework is free as well as being open source, it uses the C# programming language and can deploy to a plethora of platforms, some of which are:  IOS, Android, MacOS, Nintendo Switch and Windows. That’s quite the variety, isn’t it?

The engine can make both 2D and 3D games, it has sound effects and music playback. Keyboard, mouse, touch, and controller inputs are also available in the framework, and it has content building and optimization as well as a math library optimized for games.

If any of this sounds intriguing, make sure to check Monogame out! 

5. Solar 2D

Formerly known as Corona, Solar 2D is a free and open-source cross-platform development kit. With the latest events, the name change was a smart move, don’t you think?

As the name suggests, this development kit allows you to develop 2D games and deploy them on a number of platforms such as Windows, IOS, Android, and MacOS to name a few.

We mentioned earlier that this Lua based engine is “Cross platform”, what does that mean?

Simply put: you can develop a game to be deployed on a number of platforms, but only use one source code! Awesome, now what do we mean by Lua?

Lua is an open source scripting language made to be lightweight, easy to use but also powerful. Now let’s briefly touch on some of the software’s features, the engine has an instant update simulator, plugins for all your needs, the ability to call any native library, and of course, it is completely free! 

6. GameSalad

Indie game development can mean a lot of things. It can mean a team of game developers with no funding from any publisher, or it can simply mean a gamer who wants to make a game, but simply isn’t comparable to big AAA game studios. Luckily, we live in a day and age where there is software that accommodate that!

Gamesalad is an easy to use game design tool that helps you create 2D games without needing any kind of coding whatsoever! Let it be known that GameSalad is not free, its price ranges from 8 to 25 USD a month depending on the tier you are subscribed to.

Some of the engine’s features are that it is a drag-and-drop coding platform, you’re essentially coding by dragging and dropping. You can add social and monetization features, a readily available free-to-play model, and so many other features. 

7. CryEngine

If you are a fan of Far Cry, listen up! CryEngine was the engine on which the very first Far Cry was developed!

CryEngine is a free game development engine, with royalties of 5% applied upon shipping a product. The engine’s area of specialty seems to be 3D, and to be more specific, realistic shooters. While CryEngine can do 2D, the complexity of the engine might not make learning it a worthwhile choice , only to end up developing a 2d game, try a simpler engine for that.

No engine can do every genre of games perfectly, and CryEngine is no exception, so we recommend you think about the game you want to make, have a look at the games developed in CryEngine, and see whether your game is similar and go from there.

Now let’s take a look at some of the engine’s features. CryEngine has real time local reflections, realistic vegetation, a material editor, substance integration, physicalized character customization, audio abstraction and many many more! Give CryEngine a try if any of this sounds good to you. 

8. Open 3D Engine

Previously known as  Amazon Lumberyard, Open 3D Engine is a free, open source and a cross platform game engine.

As the name suggests, the game engine is a 3D engine, so no 2D here. This engine is the updated version of Amazon Lumberyard, which itself was based on CryEngine, the engine we talked about just before this one.

Some of the engine’s features include data-driven character animation system, a real-time physics engine, high-performance networking layer, and a multi-threaded and extensible photorealistic renderer.

The engine can be installed on both Windows and Linux and can deploy games on a number of platforms such as, Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, and IOS. 

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