A Gamer's Guide to Video Game Software, Part 1: Unity 3D
Do you love video games? Would you devote your free time to creating your own game—one superior to the games you already have? Or at least one that has more Neil Patrick Harris jokes?
There is good news and bad news. There are many software options for making all sorts of video games. However, most are quite difficult to use and cost several thousand dollars, like professional movie and music production software. For those of you who don't plan on going into game development as a full time career, or have just started along that path, there are really only a few engines that combine low cost, broad functionality, and ease of use.
Over the next three days, we will cover three of them: Unity for general game-making, RPG Maker for RPG's, and a collection of actual games that allows users to make games within them.
Unity is one of a growing number of game development engines available to consumers. Big companies use very sophisticated and expensive engines like Unreal Engine 3 and Source to make their games. What sets Unity apart from those engines are two important distinctions: you can afford it, and you might be able to figure out how to use it without professional training.
Unity Corporation's founder has spoken about the democritization of game design, and Unity Engine seems like a step in that direction. Not only does it not cost the many thousands of dollars that many other 3D-capable development engines cost, it's free. The free version lacks some advanced features and displays a watermark in the corner of all games, as they're playing though. For new game designers who aren't making salable products, that shouldn't matter. If you get the game development bug and want to make something more serious (and watermark-free), Unity Pro costs $1500, which might seem like a lot, but is actually less than any other similarly capable software.
As for the game-making itself, Unity has a lot of functionality in very easy-to-use packaging, making it great for beginners. One of my favorite aspects is that it automatically imports assets with drag-and-drop. This means that you can add images and such to your game with a visual interface rather than code. It also automatically re-imports them when you make changes, something that is a hassle in some other engines. Unity's website has a massive database of tutorials and other support options available to both free and pro users, so there is plenty of help available for the many times you will run into trouble.
Unity is a relatively new engine; Unity Corporation was only founded in 2005. But there are some cool commercially available games made with it. Max & the Magic Marker, OMG Pirates!, and Atmosphir are all solid titles that cover a wide range of gameplay styles. It's by no means easy to make an game with Unity, but is easier, cheaper, and more capable than most of its rivals, so give it a shot if you have some time and interest to spare.