Making a game for smartphones and tablets? Develop offers a comprehensive round-up of some of the best tools available to help you ensure your mobile hit stands out, as used by some of the biggest titles on the market.
Unreal Engine 4
Company: Epic Games
Epic Games is keen to show that its high-end engine can have just as much impact on mobile as on consoles. The tech supports iOS and Android. Rodeo Games recently used the engine for its 3D mobile strategy game Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch, demonstrating its graphical power.
The latest iteration of the widely-used engine maintains its predecessor’s level of accessibility and ramps up the production quality, introducing physically-based shading, 64-bit support and Geomerics’ Enlighten tech. Space Ape Games has already used Unity 5 to power its new game Rival Kingdoms.
Company: YoYo Games
Known for powering Hotline Miami and Spelunky and Nidhogg. GameMaker: Studio uses a drag-and-drop interface and its own scripting language to enable both new and established developers to build prototypes and full games quickly. Free and paid-for versions are available.
The team behind this cross-platform dev tool prides itself on giving developers choice. Users are able to build and port games like SimCity BuildIt to iOS, Android, Windows 10, Roku and more from a single codebase in C++ or Lua. Marmalade also promises native performance on each device.
This free game engine is available to licensed PlayStation developers, but it can be used to build games for multiple platforms, including Android and iOS. It is built with speedy development in mind, as shown by the level editor that allows Lua script-driven game creation with live in-game editing and playback.
The Stingray game engine is a completely new offering from Autodesk. The tech is built on the data-driven architecture of the Bitsquid engine, which the firm acquired last year. Subscription plans, including with Maya LT, are available from $30 a month. The tool supports console, desktop and mobile platforms.
Havok Vision Engine
Optimised for deploying games to iOS, Android and Tizen, Havok’s mobile engine specialises in creating triple-A titles for smart devices. It features a range of game-ready features, and integrates with a variety of third-party tools. Havok also promises high performance, even when creating highly detailed, realistic scenes.
Earlier this year it was announced the XNA Framework is no longer required to use MonoGame, a significant milestone for the tool. It continues to help devs bring their games to mobile, among other platforms. It uses C# and other .NET languages, and its open source nature allows devs to customise the tools however they need.
Company: The Game Creators
Designed as a one-stop shop for mobile development, the newest version of TheGameCreators’ AppGameKit was funded by Kickstarter. Deploying to iOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry, it has not only be used for multiple mobile games, it also powers the Driving Test Success app.
Company: Corona Labs
Now available for free, Corona is based on the Lua coding language. While Lua is easy to learn, the SDK also offers a comprehensive API library helping devs add everything from animation to networking with a few lines of code. It deploys to mobile platforms including iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Kindle.
The team behind GameSalad boldly claims that new developers can use its tool to learn the basics of games development and make their first title in just one hour. The tool’s unique and easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface lets creators build games quickly for iOS, Android, Amazon Appstore and HTML5.
Another open source toolkit, Haxe is based on a “modern, high-level, strictly-typed programming language”, although its creators assure developers that it is easy to learn for anyone familiar with Java, C++, PHP or AS3. Compiling games for iOS and Android, Haxe is also the tech behind the acclaimed Papers, Please.
‘Create amazing games without code’ is the promise that Stencyl makes. The toolset is designed with a drag-and-drop interface where blocks of scripting snap into place, with plenty of ready-to-use blocks available. Devs can also create their own blocks through code and publish to iOS, Android, Flash and more.
Company: Photon Storm
Company: Mario Zechner
GRAPHICS & ART
ARM Mali GPU tools
The Mali family of GPUs can be found in millions of smart devices, and ARM has created numerous tools to help developers take full advantage of them. Ranging from the Graphics Debugger and the GPU Shader Development Studio to an OpenGL ES Emulator, these give mobile devs the tools they need to make the most of Mali.
Substance Designer 5
Specialising in physically-based rendering textures, the latest version of Allegorithmic’s tool makes it easier than ever to improve the look of your game. The node-based interface allows for quick and efficient changes, and textures created are compatible with any game engine – even in-house ones.
Geomerics’ impressive lighting tech may appear to be geared towards triple-A console and PC titles, but scalability means it can be just as effective on mobile. It delivers dynamic lighting through an accurate real-time simulation of global illumination – or, to put it another way, how light transfers between surfaces.
Company: Silicon Studio
Silicon Studio’s post-processing effects middleware is used by Hollywood greats like Pixar, but it is also available to mobile developers. Using optical aberration and correction simulations to mimic the images captured by real lenses, Yebis 3 helps devs create near photorealistic graphics on iOS and Android.
A cost-effective alternative to Autodesk’s flagship Maya product, the LT edition is a 3D animation and modelling tool aimed at indie developers. It also features a range of lighting, materials and texture baking functions, and the ability to export your creations to other tools, including leading game engines.
Speedtree for Games
This year’s winner of the Develop Award for Design & Creativity Tool enables mobile studios to fill their games with lush vegetation. The tool features a special mobile resolution, generating trees with around 1,000 triangles – as opposed to the desktop standard 8,000 – to ensure smooth performance on low-end devices.
Audiokinetic’s sound engine is optimised for multiple mobile platforms. Designed to be used by music and sound artists rather than programmers, the customisable layout allows devs to work efficiently on any project.
Company: Firelight Technologies
FMOD is modelled on professional digital audio workstations, making it easy to use for both experts or newcomers to the discipline. Live in-game mixing allows devs to create and tweak music and sound while the game plays.
INFRASTRUCTURE, ENGAGEMENT & PRODUCTION
Recently acquired by mobile platform Viber, Nextpeer is a specialised SDK that helps developers add social and multiplayer functionality to their titles. Linking games to Nextpeer’s network of players, the tech works across platforms and devs can even customise the interface to stay in keeping with their games.
GameSparks’ cloud-based services allows mobile devs to add social functionality, multiplayer support and virtual economies to their titles. Custom analytics help them track player behaviour to work out the best ways to retain and grow their audience, and has been used in titles such as Lara Croft: Relic Run.
The IBM-owned NoSQL Database-as-a-Service uses the cloud to handle all the intricacies of database infrastructure and large amounts of concurrent users so devs don’t have to. Studios can quickly prototype their games, and Cloudant will accommodate for any changes made. It can even handle sudden surges of popularity.
This mobile monetisation and ad platform helps developers generate revenue from their games with full-screen interstitial ads and cross-promotions between their titles. The SDK can be downloaded for iOS and Android, or Unity and Unreal users can add the official plug-in.
Part of Outfit7, Bee7 offers devs a unique way to engage and retain users thanks to its gameplay reward system. Rather than receiving virtual currency and rewards for engaging with ads for other games, Android players are rewarded for playing the promoted title rather than just installing it. iOS users are rewarded for watching video ads, as are Android gamers.
Company: Perforce Software
The new evolution of Perforce’s Develop Award-winning versioning software, Helix not only helps devs keep track of their game’s progress, but also adds new functions aimed at teams collaborating from around the world and security measures to detect threats to studios’ precious IP.