Developing games is multi-disciplined compared to developing business apps and services. Games need design skills spanning UI, audio, gameplay, and art direction. It also requires engineering skills for graphics, gameplay, audio, cloud services, and develops. Sometimes you need to get low level and play around with hardware registries in assembly to optimize performance for a specific device. Do you need to build all those layers yourself when making a game, or is there a better way? Of course, there is a better way. The .NET ecosystem offers many choices for folks like you who want to make games, but do not want to build everything from scratch. In my previous post, I showcased the diverse .NET game development landscape. In this post I will showcase some of the .NET game engines out there, and will help you choose which game engine is right for you.
Developers used to build their games from scratch each time. Now, developers have abstracted a lot of reusable code in their games and created a set of APIs and tools that they can reuse whenever they start a new game. These Game Engines contain abstractions of graphics, input, media API. They also might contain design tools and assets managers for visual and audio assets. You can think about them as an IDE but for more than just code. Some game companies started releasing their engines commercially.
With the popularity of C# more game engines started using .NET. The Mono runtime, now part of .NET 5, was a great choice because it was able to run C# code on many platforms including Android, iOS, PC, Mac, and Linux. Mono also supported dedicated game consoles like Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo platforms. Now with .NET including Mono with .NET 5, we are seeing some game engines getting ready to upgrade.
Engines built with .NET
MonoGame can be described as more of a framework to build game engines with. It might have started as a multi-platform version of XNA, but it has advanced beyond that scope. MonoGame offers comprehensive APIs for game development and an asset management tool. MonoGame just got updates to version 3.8 where it uses .NET Core 3.1 and NuGet, with a plan to upgrade to .NET 5. MonoGame is so flexible other game engines use it as a base, for example FlatRedBall. Many indie developers use MonoGame for all their cross-platform game development.
Stride (formally Xenko) is another pure C# and .NET engine that was developed by Silicon Studios. It’s a complete integrated engine with a graphical editor. Stride is now open-source and royalty free. Different parts of the engine can be used independently thanks to its modular design. Stride also uses .NET Core 3.1 in their latest 4.0 release. I really like the part in their documentation that focuses on folks who have used Unity before.
Another Engine that is purely .NET is WaveEngine. WaveEngine is free with many of its components open-sourced. Their latest 3.0 preview released just upgraded to .NET Core 3.1. It offers exciting features like running 3D scenes in a browser using .NET WebAssembly (Mono WASM), Azure remote rendering, and support for HoloLens 2. WaveEngine has many mixed reality features, like spatial audio, ready to use out of the box.
NeoAxis is an engine that was pointed out to me after I published my previous blog post about using .NET for game development. It’s also completely written with .NET, open-source, and royalty free. It supports a full set of features, in including the addition of Android support in the latest release.
Engines embedding .NET
Unity, developed in C++, was one of the earlier commercial engines to use .NET to provide C# scripting and multi-platform targeting. Unity is an integrated engine with a programming API interface as well as visual editing tools for graphics, audio, profiling, and debugging. Unity quickly became one of the most used game engine for all real-time graphics applications like games, VR, and simulations. There is a big ecosystem supporting Unity, from an asset store for plugins and starter packs, to game services like Microsoft Azure PlayFab. Unity is a commercial engine, but its free to use until certain revenue thresholds. It’s also free to use for some educational and personal uses.
Godot is a royalty free, multi-platform, open-source engine developed using C++. It’s a fully integrated game development engine. It also uses .NET to deliver C# scripting. Lately, Godot has been gaining popularity and its community is growing rapidly. It has also gained support and grants from both Microsoft and Epic games.
The famous CryEngine also uses .NET. The engine was built in C++, but it uses the .NET to enable C# scripting. It’s a powerful game engine with a great history powering AAA games. You only pay royalties when you exceed a revenue threshold.
Which engine is right for you?
The most important point when choosing a game engine is how to get support. For beginners, asking peers, or folks online for help is an essential part of learning and remaining motivated. For professionals, enterprise level support is essential to mitigate technical risks. By far, Unity has one of the biggest and most active communities. It also offers paid high-quality enterprise support. In addition, Unity also has one of the biggest ecosystems of services and plugins supporting the engine. Godot has also been gaining more popularity amongst hobbyists and its momentum has been accelerating as well.
Another thing to consider are your own skills, and how well an engine will support you. If you come from a .NET background and want the latest C# features, maybe a pure .NET engine like Stride, WaveEngine, or even MonoGame would suit you best. You can use all the familiar tools with them, like NuGet and the CLI.
An engine with active development gives you security that bugs will get fixed and new platforms and features will be added. Commercial engines might be better for you if that is a concern.
An important consideration when choosing an engine is the price. All the game engines mentioned above are free to start with. Some have royalties attached to them once you reach a revenue threshold. Some of the engines are completely free and royalty free. You choose where the loot goes depending on your financial plans.
Game design can dictate which engine you should use too. One engine might be more suitable than others for certain types of games. For example, using a fully integrated commercial engine to make a text-based adventure might be overkill.
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You have a .NET game development related project, plugin, library, or game you want to blog about on the .NET blog? Is there a .NET game development topic that you want me to write about?