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[This is a repost from www.gamelogicdesign.com ]
This is an article for beginner game developers who are thinking of selecting (or building) their next game engine, with a lean towards online based games.
Before you can select your game
engine you need to make a few choices. Who is your target audience? Is it
PC, PS3, iPhones or anyone with a webbrowser? Then you will need to
start looking for technology that you can use to develop for that
platform. This may give you a number of different solutions to choose
from, after which you then pick one that best suits your needs based on
your skill set and requirements.
The game platform(s)
looking for the game engine you need to decide what platform (or
platforms) you are going to be targeting and how you would like to
deliver the game to your user. Firstly lets look at a few delivery
You could create your game so
that it runs within a browser. This usually has the benefit of being
easier to install and allowing the user to access the game from
multiple machines. I say "usually" because depending on your engine the
user may still have to install some component on their system, that
could be Flash, Silverlight, ActiveX controls or some other such thing.
And depending on the users browser and security permissions it may be
difficult for the user to do.
machines these days trust Flash and have it installed. So for a safe
bet you could develop your game so that it can be played in flash.
However Silverlight is gaining momentum and I personally prefer
Silverlight over Flash because (1) its free to develop for and (2) I
already have C# development experience so I don't have to learn Action
Script (and I personally know a lot more developers who also know .Net
languages which can also be used to develop in Silverlight). Even
though reskilling yourself is good, its also very good to see if you
can take advantage of your existing skillset as well (hence my
Silverlight over Flash decision).
For those interested you can develop Silverlight applications by downloading the Visual Web Developer 2008 Express Edition.
I am not a flash user I can not say what is possible for flash. But for
Silverlight you can get access to some storage on the users computer to
store extra files and information as a kind of caching if you feel the
need. It is called "Isolated Storage". Flash most likely offers a
similar system as well.
Both Silverlight and Flash web apps now
also have the ability to let the user run them directly from the users
computer without being in a webpage. They also allow you to let the
user work offline, although for an MMO this has somewhat limited uses. But
this does allow for some more flexibility to how you deploy your
Now some of you may be wondering why I am bring up
Flash and Silverlight at all in this discussion. One reason is that you
may very well decide to forgo the entire 3D route and stick to a nice
tiled based 2D engine. But the main reason is that you might like to
offer some kind of interactive experience on your website and doing
this with Flash or Silverlight communicating to your Game server could
offer some interesting ideas (a real time map of where everyone is in
the world, running statistics).
these days offer Web based players (Unity, Esperient, Virtools). These
allow you to use the engine with all its 3D abilities running it from
within the users Web browser. In reality the application is installed
on the users computer and simply runs in a window within the Web
browser. They have varying abilities and usually sandbox the software
so that the engine can not access the users files direction via the
You must also check which platform the web player
supports. For example some may only support Internet Explorer under
windows, if your target audience is Mac users or even Firefox users
then you are out of luck. One product that has good support for
multiple platforms and browsers is Unity3D
to throw in one other way. You could even write your entire MMO in
a google search for AJAX MMO
, you might be surprised what you find.
3D in a Browser
are already a few products out on the market today that let you publish
3D games directly to the webbrowser. These will run directly in the
browser by using technology such as ActiveX controls. Here are a few
companies that currently offer this kind of technology...
Unity3D (Its free for personal and commercial use!)
Remember also that 3D in the web browser is just around the corner with HTML5 and WebGL. And with the ability of projects such as Project Darkstar
Darkstar Server we could see more 3D based MMO games being delivered
straight into your browser using 3D graphics.
Mobile devices (iPhone, iPodTouch, Android, Cell Phones, Zune).
may also be a future in using Mobile phones to play MMO games (well
maybe just an MO since it might not be able to scale to something
Massive on a phone just yet). It is certainly possible to use RakNet (a
game networking engine) with an iPhone and a custom back end server to
create an MMO. You could also look at what Google are doing with the
Android platform. You can make games for Zune using XNA Studio
by microsoft so why not a MOG?
To further investigate the iPhone path I can suggest taking a look at sio2 interactive
, its an open source 3D game engine for iPhone and iPodTouch. Perhaps you could hook this up with RakNet
or Project Darkstar
to make a 3D MMO. If you have some money you could also just use something like Unity3D
and publish to the iPhone ( as well as other platforms). You could also use Photon
to have a complete networking solution developing with iPhone, Android, Unity, Win32, .NET, J2ME, BREW and Flash.
your dream is to make an MMO that runs on Playstation 3, XBox360 or the
Wii then there are also a few good commercial Game Engines that you
could use to start up your company. And here I say "start up your
company" because unfortunately if you are going to make a game for
these platforms then you will need to be a set up commercial company
with a solid game idea that you can pitch to some executives at a Game
Publishing house (or try going direct to Microsoft, Sony or
Nintendo if you are able to), with the exception of indie games for
Xbox360 made with XNA studio (more on this later).
Unreal Engine (XBox360 and PS3)
CryEngine3 ( XBox360, PS3)
And then of course you can always build your own Game Engine for these consoles as well (more about this later).
Xbox360 XNA Studio
Now there is one exception to this rule and that is the Xbox360. Microsoft released the XNA Game Studio
that you can use to develop games that get published directly to the
Xbox360 and you can share them with the Xbox360 community in the Xbox
Live Arcade. Note that with XNA you can also publish to the Zune and PC
so its not a bad platform for beginning programmers (and you get to
develop using C# which is a really nice language).
PC/Mac/Linux based game engines.
There are a lot of game engines out on the market today, both Open Source and Commercial. For a small list of engines, that I was investigating for various reasons, you can check out the Game Engine section in the links page
For an excellent resource to find an engine that suits your needs you could go to http://www.devmaster.net/engines/
click on Advanced Search and select what you require.
Build your own using Middleware
you could write your own 3D engine, physics engine, scripting engine...
engine engine engine... In my opinion, don't waste your time (unless
you are extremely passionate about learning the finer details), but
seriously, don't do it!
OR you could use Middleware (free or commercial). This is the approach I am taking.
The Game Engine
my game engine I have decided to not use any of the available game
engines on the market. Instead I am going to select individual
middleware and put together my own game engine.
Why did I make this decision?
By basing the engine on free middleware it not only saves me money but will also save you, the reader, money as well.
current game engines can do alot! Sometimes they do so much that it can
be overwhelming to use. By using smaller parts it will keep the overall
design of the game and the game engine alot simpler.
Portability By selecting code that is cross platform it allows us the opportunity to develop a fully cross platform game.
part of the game engine can be swapped out for a different part if
required. Different sound system? Different physics? Different
Rendering engine? Scripting?
You can upgrade any of the middleware components yourself if you need to since you will have the source code.
this article is about how to develop a game engine for an online game I am going to show you what
middleware you could choose and how to integrate it into your own game
Artist and Designer Friendly
Finally I want
the engine to be very easy to use by Artists and Designers. It should
be very simple to create new graphics and get them into the game.
Because of this I am going to write all the tools so that they work
within Cinema4D. Artists can design levels, create creatures, do
animations and visualize that in the game with the click of a button.
This is the only part of the engine pipeline that actually costs money,
but if you are going to make a game and need to create content then you
should have at least one content creation application at your disposal.
Most, if not all, of the game engines on the market today do not have
good modeling and animation toolsets. And why should they? They don't
have to, they are a game engine not a modeling application.
How to make your own Game Engine using Middleware
section will focus on what a game engine actually is and what parts are
required to make a game engine. One thing to keep in mind when
searching for all these engines is to think about cross-platform
ability, if you wish your game to be cross platform that is. If your
perfectly happy to just release for windows machines then who I am to
What is required in a game engine?
3D graphics engine
3D graphics engine would be built on something such as OpenGL, DirectX
or some custom software renderer. It would be able to load in a scene
file with geometry, textures and animations and display these to the
screen. It will also have good scene management, animation abilities,
cameras and lights. If you want to make your graphics look as shiny and
realistic as possible then you may also decide to use hardware
shaders in your engine. You might even look into using normal maps and
displacement maps to give a higher quality look to some low poly
models. I am not going to go into alot of detail here, there is simply too
many things that could be discussed regarding 3d graphics engines.
However I will go over this in a lot more detail in later articles.
thing to consider when choosing a graphics engine is your own level of
programming ability. So far the most easiest graphics engine I have
come across today is the Irrlicht graphics engine.
Other engines may have a lot more features, but the added complexity of
the code makes them hard to learn for beginners. A few other engines
which are free to use for commercial products are Ogre3D
, Crystal Space
and Wild Magic
. Wild Magic is interesting because you can buy the book
, by David H. Eberly
, that explains the entire engine and its design.
thing to consider when making your MMO is how much effort do you want
to put into the graphics. If you are thinking of something along the
lines of World of Warcraft then Irrlicht
may be fine for your needs. But if you want to make something that has the graphics like that of the new MMO Aion
made using CryEngine that was used on Crysis, then you might have to
look for a more commercial graphics engine. But what I will say is that
if you are serious about making an MMO, and you are a team of one to
none, then just choose a simple graphics engine and concentrate on
everything else, trust me you are going to have more than enough work
to do without having to worry about getting some lens flare looking
pretty when viewed near a normal mapped, high poly creature doing back
flips with flaming god like particles flying out of its ear holes.
Sticking to a simple graphics engine that is understandable and easy to
work with is a good place to start. And I should point out that
Irrlicht is more than adequate for your gaming needs.
For my project I will be using the Irrlicht
Now even though I mentioned above that the graphics engine can load in
and display your animations you may still want to have a dedicated
animation system. This system would blend between different animations
and maybe also blend keyframe animations in with physics driven
simulations. One common example is the mixing of Physics ragdoll
simulations with imported motion capture data. You might have a few
actions that were captured in a motion capture suit, then sampled down
to a reasonable amount of keyframes. These are then imported into your
animation system. There could be a run cycle, walk cycle, firing a gun,
getting shot etc... Perhaps when your character gets shot the physics
system initially takes over the animation of the character flying away
then as he is nearing the ground an animation that moves the character
into a landing position is slowly blended in with the physics
simulation to make the character appear like he has landed on his
hands and knees, followed by a standing animation and then back to
running at the opponent to kick there ass.
This kind of system
could be done with some kind of state machine to move between the
animations and also simple linear interpolation between what the
physics engine is giving you and what your keyframes should be at a
given time. But in saying all this you don't need to have such a
system if you don't want to. You could just as easily getting away with
straight switching of animations, which is what it looks like in a lot
of games anyway, the player runs, then stops straight away, no slowing
down from a run to walk to stopping. But does it really matter? No not
really. The game play is still good, it just looks a little strange.
Not as strange however as players popping into different locations when
walking around due to some server communication delay, but still a
Some systems that you could use to get this kind of system running are Havok Animation and software by Natural Motion
so now we move onto the Physics Engine. Again, same decision as the
animation system, is it really required. And my answer to that is....
maybe. Its up to you. For an MMO I would not expect to create the same
physical simulations on all players machines. Instead I would let each
animation system do its own thing on each client and the things that
are controlled by physics would just be for effects purposes, ie
exploding things with debris flying around or a large stack of boxes
falling to the ground only to disappear from the scene 10 seconds
later. The reason for not keeping all clients in sync with all the
physics objects is because it is too much networking overhead. Sending
the locations of every physics object in the world to every client just
seems like a lot of work that's not really required. One other
possibility is to have a dedicated server doing all the physics
calculations and sending the data to every client, but again its a lot
of work for not much gain.
Instead what I would do is have
every client use their CPU and GPU to full potential and let things
explode, fly around and bounce and blob all over the screen for pure
graphics thrills. I would not send any data about any of these physics
objects the server, or any client (if your doing a P2P game). This
gives you more freedom to make fancy stuff and not care about game
objects in the scene.
As far as getting a physics engine goes
you could write your own. There are a lot of resources on the internet
and writing one can be a lot of fun. But since you want to make a game
and not play around with some pretty hard maths and optimizations its
best to use one of the excellent libraries that are already out there.
The most notable are Havok
and Newton Dynamics
. I will add more to the links
pages as I find them (and think they are any good).
was initially a company making physics cards what would sit in your
computer along with your graphics card and provide a hardware boost to
your physics. This didn't take off and eventually NVidia bought them
out, not for the hardware, but for the SDK they had. It has since been
optimized for their GPU's and now if you use the PhysX engine in your
games and happen to be running a game on a computer using something
higher than an NVidia 8800 GT then you should see some speed
improvements. It is free to use.
is now owned by Intel and they have made it free to use for windows
based game developers. You can download a binary only distribution and
get started straight away. It comes with excellent integration with 3D
applications such as Maya, Max and XSI. If you decide to sell your
game for more that $10 you will have to get a distribution license from
Havok, but I think this may be free as well. If you want to use it for
any other purpose, such as PS3 or Xbox360, then you will have to
purchase the full license.
is an open source, cross platform, physics engine that is free to use.
You can also get all the code and add to it if you wish. It has a large
community following and is gaining increased momentum as the physics
engine of choice for a lot of projects. It is third in popularity
according to a recent survey
by the game developer magazine.
and Newton Dynamics
are two other open source physics engines. It has been reported that
ODE has some problems with simulation stability in some cases. The
Newton Dynamics engine is also a very popular physics engine and has
been used in some simulation based projects as well as products
like Esperient Creator
The one that I will use for my engine will be the Bullet engine
scripting engine is good for writing your game logic in. The reason for
its goodness is because you do not have to recompile one line of code,
you could even set up your engine so that you could edit the scripts in
game while its running. This frees the game designer from having to
worry about visual C++, compiling code and other nasty stuff when all
they really want to do is get into the game and tweak some of game
logic for getting that last level playing super sweet. There are a
number of languages you could choose as your scripting language, each
has their own pros and cons which I will not go into here. Here is a
list of some commonly used scripting languages in games....
C# or Boo via Mono
once you have chosen your scripting language you will need an editor.
You could just use notepad of course (or EditPlus or your favourite
text editor of choice). Or you could add an IDE to your engine by using
something like Scintilla
, which has nice syntax highlighting features.
thing to mention here is that most of the game logic scripts for an MMO are
actually run server side and not client side. But even so there is alot
of things that can be achieved by using a scripting engine on the
client side as well. And either way you will need to make a decision on
the scripting language and how and where you are going to edit them
For my project I will be using C# via embedded Mono.
need to be able to talk to your game server and send things like player
locations, health information and 30 million creatures just spawned and
attacked you at the same time information. To do this you will need
some sort of way of sending and receiving this information from the
server. You could go the hard (or not so hard for some people) way and
write your own using sockets and TCP/IP. Or you could decide to use one
of the free or commercial packages out there to do all the underlying
hard stuff for you. I personally would rather spend as much time making
the game than investigating some packets to see why the right
information is not in them.
One good, and free until you earn a lot of money, engine is RakNet
This is a cross platform C++ game networking engine. But in addition to
its ability to handle all game object replication and easy
serialization and construction of game objects it also has a lot of
other neat things that are ideal for making online games. These being a
Lobby system, voice communication, RPC (Remote procedure calls) and a
patching system to download the latest data to the client machines to
keep them in sync, very nice. So you could in effect use this one
system to handle all the communication to the server for your games and
allow voice communication via P2P for players to communicate to each
If you were a flash developer you could use something like SmartFoxServer
. Its not just for flash however, you can also use it with Java, .Net and iPhones etc...
Perhaps you would like to code your game in Java. If this is the case then take a look at Project Darkstar
This is a fully capable back end server with client code for both Java
and C++. You will still need to serialize the data yourself but the
main communication mechanism is all in place and the server has full
persistence of all game object data. This means that it handles all
the saving and loading of data for your world to the database for you
so you don't have to worry about it. You can just write your server
side game logic and get your game going.
There is also a commercial Networking engine called NetDog
I do not know what projects it has been used on or its reputation, but
it may be worth a look. It is a commercial engine however and they do
not disclose how much it costs.
And finally one other system is Photon.
Photon is interesting since it can be used in conjunction with Neutron
give a full MMO networking solution including the backend server and
game logic scripting using C# and has SDKs for iPhone, Android, Unity,
Win32, .NET, J2ME, BREW and Flash.
For my project I am going to use RakNet
for the Networking engine.
game will want to have sound. Its a must really. Without sound its
really only half a game. You will need to be able to load in sounds,
change their basic characteristics, such as pitch, speed and tone.
Maybe add some effects over the top to distort or add reverb to the
sounds ( or you could just have loads of preprocessed sound files of each
type you require). You will also need to be able to change the volume
of the sounds and mix them together, perhaps pan around for stereo
sound, maybe even go for 5.1 surround sound. If you are going to use
the Irrlicht graphics engine then you might consider using the Irrklang audio library
since it works in with Irrlicht quite well.
Another well known sound library is OpenAL
. Where as Irrklang can cost anywhere from 0 Euro for non-commercial to 1950 Euro for a full commercial product, OpenAL is free.
OpenAL will be used for my project.
your game has non player characters (npc's) running around then you
might also want to have an AI Engine to control them. Bearing in mind
that the main control for AI characters will most likely be done server
side you might still want to have some purely client based characters
running around in the game. One such system for path finding is Havok AI
. Another, which is still being worked on, is IrrAI.
Resource Management, Memory management, file loading and streaming
is not really an engine but just something that you will need if you
make a large scale game, such as an MMO. You will need to be able to stream in data from the users hardrive
while the game is playing and update your graphics, sound, animations
etc... on the fly. You will also have to dump unused memory as you go
along as well. This is particularly required for textures and geometry
as you move through a large open world. You will need to pre load in
various parts of the world in case the user is going to go that
direction in the game. If you keep your graphics and textures simple
then you will have to do this less often, something to keep in mind.
make your game you will need to be able to layout the levels, add
sounds, setup characters with the right textures, animations,
statistics etc... for all this you will need one or more editors. This
section will go over some of the editors that you will
require to make your games.
What kind of editors will you need
level editor is how you create your game worlds. It lets you load in
geometry and place it in the world. This is where you lay down the
terrain, add trees, rocks and buildings. Tell a building it has a
certain amount of hit points before it will fall apart after been hit
by multiple rockets. You setup sound in your scene, where the sound
direction is coming from and how large of an area the sound can be
heard in. You need to be able to add Trigger locations, usually in the
form of a large wireframe sphere or cube, to the scene to trigger
scripts, effects or sounds when a user comes in contact with the
trigger. Here you will setup the lighting of the game, perhaps some
simple geometry for navmeshes (Navigation geometry used by the AI
system to determine where AI characters can walk) as well as physics
settings to mark things as solid or movable. You will also place
monsters, traps, treasures in your levels and many other things. The
list can go on and on.
Your levels might be broken
up into zones in your world. Each zone will be streamed in and
out of the game engine as the players walk around the world. The Level
editor will need to be able to save all its data and export out all the
settings in a file format that the game engine can use, most likely in
the form of an XML file.
Unless you get a system that contains
a level editor already in it, such as the CryEngine3 Sandbox Editor,
you are going to have to build one yourself. However another option is
to incorporate all your tools into an existing system such as Maya, Max or Cinema4D,
more on this later.
The sound editor needs to
be to load in sounds in various file formats, adjust and tweak the
sound, make sounds loopable, remove static noise etc... basically any
sound editor out there on the market today will do the job. You do not
need to write your own sound editor. If the sound editor you have
chosen doesn't output to the required file type for your sound engine
in your game engine then you may have to use a separate converter to do
the job. This is usually not a problem since it will be handled by your
asset pipeline, ie you check in the WAV file to the Digital Asset
Management system and the asset pipeline system automatically converts
it to an OGG file and saves that back into the Digital Asset Management
system to be used by the game when it runs.
you have a game engine that already has such a system you are going to
have to write one of these yourself. You can write it ontop of your
graphics engine, but remember to keep it as separate as possible. This
system is mainly going to be used to setup characters with animations
and setup the finite state machine to tell it how to blend between the
different animations for that character. As an example you might load
in a mesh for a character. Then select a few different run and walk
cycles for the character and tell the game how it would blend between
them using some non linear animation system. You can then preview how
the animation looks on the character.
You might even give this
system the ability to tweak the animations a bit by modifying the
keyframes. But this is not really recommended since you will then have
to remember this modifications and try to apply them each time you
modify the original animation data in Maya, Max or Cinema4D.
could very well be integrated with the Animation Editor itself. The
Character Editor would be where you setup a full character. You select
the mesh, maybe change some textures, tell it what abilities it has,
what weapons it can carry, what its initial health points are, allowed
spells etc... anything you can think of that might be useful for
setting up on this character should be able to be done in the Character
Editor. This could also include the animations, as described
previously. Now this is not to say that this data is the final definite
data for the game. The scripting system when the game is running could
of course alter any of these values.
Particle Effects Editor
editor to create particle effects like fire, smoke, explosions,
waterfalls, rain and lots lots more. This again is something that you
will have to write yourself and is very specific to the graphics engine
that you have chosen to use.
Facial Animation Editor
of games these days have in-depth stories and complex character dialog.
If you want to have any of this stuff then you could look into creating
a facial animation editor. I will not go into this in too much detail
other than to point out a few sites like lifemode
to say really but you will need a content creation package such as
Maya, Max, XSI, Cinema4D, Modo, Blender or one of the many other
products. Each are good.
For my project I will be using Cinema4D
your game will have crowd simulations, a vehicle traffic system, bird
flying around in some flocking behaviour or maybe each of your
characters has their own brain and you need an editor to setup how
everything works... if this is the case then you may need some kind of
There are many other types of
editors depending on the type of game you are making. For example
vehicle editors and tree editors to name just two. Take a look at an
engine like CryEngine3 or UnrealTechnology. The number of things you
can do with their technology is astounding.
All in one editor
Perhaps you might want to create an all in one editor, something like Crytek's sandbox editor
or the Unreal Engine
. This could even be based on your actual game engine and provide a play
mechanism within the editor, ie WYSIWYP (What you see is what you play)
functionality. This is a nice idea and can easily be designed for. But
one thing to avoid is just jumping straight into the game engine and
adding all this functionality. It is still best to think about all
these as just components that can be used independently. By doing so
you get a clear separation between the different parts of your system.
This is useful to stop any kind of spaghetti hacking code from making
your system unusable.
You could create an editor so that is
has each of these "sub-editors" as plugins. Each of the sub-editors
would work with their own data and file formats, but could be accessed
via a unified UI. These editors could use the game engine to preview
the changes, but make sure not to make the game engine rely on any code
from the editors, with the exception of perhaps the loading code. An
editor does not have to actually do anything other than allow the user
to "edit" the data. An editor could be something as simple as Notepad
describing an XML file.
Building your own editors
you will have to build an editor. As I said previously an editor could
be something as simple as a text editor for editing an XML document, or
it could be a fully integrated 3D level editing and all in one monster
super cool application. Whatever the case may be you will need to learn
a few things before you can create your level editor. Firstly lets
think about what platform your editor is going to be on?
a moment here I am going to expand upon a few things a bit further than
3D games. Lets think about ways we could write editors for our games
and where they might be used.
Editor in a web browser
your game is going to be silverlight of flash based then perhaps you
might want to open up the opportunity for the community to create
content for your games (make levels etc... ) by using some online
editor. It certainly is possible to create a level editor in
Flash/Silverlight, have that publish content to a back end database and
get real time updates in a game running on the web. Just something to
Editor within the game (Little Big Planet)
you have heard of, or played, Little Big Planet for PS3. All the levels
were created on the PS3 itself, and they have also allowed the
community to create their own levels and share them with the world.
This is a very interesting concept and something that perhaps you may
want to allow for yourself in your game engine. This doesn't have to be
restricted to PS3 however, you could do this on any platform if you
wish. Going back to the idea of a flash/silverlight based game, the
game itself could very easily be made into a level editor if that's the
kind of interaction that you wanted to provide your users. The thing to
note about this concept however is that if you are to do this, then
ONLY do this. By forcing yourself to only ever create levels within the
game it will make your tools better. If you cheat and say... "hmmm I
really just want to get this done, I will write an XML file and import
that to create my level just this once" then you will get lazy and
continue to do this over and over and your tools will never end up
being any good for the end user to use.
Windows / OSX / Linux based
you want your level editor to be used by Windows users as well as OSX
and Linux users? Perhaps you want Solaris users to be able to edit
levels. Keep this in mind in the very beginning. If you want your
editors (and in fact your entire game engine) to be cross platform then
you must care for this at the beginning of the project. You can very
easily get lost in a pile of really nice libraries and code that will
only ever be usable on a single operating system. One point to note
here is the language that you choose. If you are going to develop your
editors (or game engine) in .Net then you should consider looking at
This will let you run your .Net applications on other operating
systems, but you need to check what is supported in Mono before you
start adding functionality to your application otherwise it might not
Who is your target audience?
When building your editors
you should keep in mind who is going to be using them. What level of
expertise do you think they will have, are they kids aged 5 years old
making a simple play world for them and their friends or are they
professional 3D graphics experts who already know how to make games, or
anything in between.
When designing your editors you should
try to keep things simple, try not to overwhelm the user with a million
options on one screen. And perhaps, maybe one day in the not so
distant future, you may want to sell your system to a potential game
developer. If this is the case then you will have to provide lots of
documentation and tutorials on how to use the system, so the easier it
is to use the less work you have to do in documenting it all up.
make your editor its best if you use an existing framework for doing
GUI's. They can be a real pain. I have used many of them over the years
and I haven't actually found any of them to be perfect for my needs. I
am not going to go into much detail about the GUI systems other than to
point you at a few and let you experiment for yourself. I will say however
that it is, in my opinion, very easy to develop 2D based level editors
in .Net using C#. But QT, or wxWidgets experts may say
the same thing about their favorite system.
pretty old microsoft technology (windows only)
(cross platform, open source)
(cross platform, LGPL licence available)
Winforms or WPF
(Windows, or via Mono on linux)
Build as much as you can into Maya, Max, Cinema4D
practice that is used within the games industry is to build the
tools directly within your preferred 3D application. This could be
Maya, Max, Cinema4D, Blender etc...
The benefit of doing this is
that the artist do not have to be retrained in a new system. They can
stay within Cinema4D and create the characters, rig them up, add
animation, textures, triggers, hit locations, create full levels with spawn points and navmeshes etc... These are then exported to an intermediate file format (more on this in a later article on Digital
Asset Management) and then processed to get the assets into the right
game format and away you go. Most applications these days have features
for adding extensive GUI's, ways of marking up objects in the scenes
(IE physics, trigger points etc...) and also provide good API's and
scripting systems for exporting that data out again.
The main downside to this approach is that you will have
to have a copy of the 3D application to edit your levels properly. But
if you are a small dev team then you will already have a 3D app of
choice already. And if your a large team then you can probably afford a
couple more copies for a dedicated level editor, and possibly have some
other non-graphics intensive editors built as simple .NET
applications. IE for setting up game object properties like hitpoints,
weapons statistics etc...
For my game engine most of the tools will be developed within Cinema4D. It has a
very extensive GUI system and allows you to create any kind of GUI
functionality that you may need.
The Game Asset Pipeline
final thing to mention about the level editors is that you should keep
in mind the Game Asset Pipeline. This is the flow of the content from
the editors to the final game. As an example a typical workflow for a
3D model would be to edit it in your 3D application, export the file to
an intermediate file format, save the intermediate file format and its
original 3d file in a digital asset management system, have some system
that checks out the intermediate file and processes it extracting out
different files required by the game engine in optimized file formats
for that engine (you might have a separate mesh file format, skeleton
file, multiple animation files, textures, lights, camera files etc...).
These game asset are then published to the game and viewed.
For my project Cinema4D will also contain functionality to hook up to a
Digital Asset Management (DAM) system to store all versions of
the levels and any intermediate files created from them. There will be
tools built directly within Cinema4D to load in assets, change them and
check them back into the DAM. You can also trigger a game preview which
will process all the files and load up the game with the latest content.
If you are interested in getting started with Cinema4D plugin development then you can take a look at another article I wrote a month or so ago.
Deploying game content
all in one systems have a method of deploying their games, usually a
"one click deployment" method. These work quite well for all in one
solutions such as Esperient Creator or Unity3D. What they generally do
is convert all the assets to the required game format required by the
game. These files are then packaged up (maybe like a Zip file as in the
Quake pk3 files). The file is then copied over to a location with all
the executable files for the game and voila! You have a game ready to
Now what about doing updates to a
game sometime after release? You could ask the client to download
patches to the game. Or you could let the game engine itself look for
updates. This could happen while the game is running and do some sort
of hot loading, or you could make it happen when the game starts up.
When it starts it downloads the latest files from the server and then
runs. You can in fact do this very easily using RakNet
interesting way of delivering content could be for clients to tell a
game server where they are located and then each player could download
the files from the nearest player via a P2P mechanism. This would reduce
the load on the asset server by not having to upload potential
gigabytes of data to every user when an update is required.
MMO Development Suites
As I fnish up this article I would like to list some other technology
that allows you to get up and running with your own MMO without too
much effort. The
following is by no means an extensive list of current engines that are
out there on the web today. This is just a small selection of what I
have found to be the most talked about engines out there that let you
jump straight into creating your own MMO games with out too much effort.
There are also some others in my links section
of my website.
For a good survey of other engines you can checkout this link at devmaster
After reading this article you should have a better understanding of
what might be required in a Game Engine. You should make sure to
explore many of the game engine components out on the internet today
and become familiar with at least a few of them. Unity3D has
just released a version that is free for Indie developers and Epic Games has also released a free version of the Unreal Engine as well.
Other engines such as Crytek's CryEngine, that ships with the game Crysis, is something you should also consider having a look at.
if your not into 3D then checkout the many flash based MMO development
kits and see what suits your needs there as well. Whatever you do make
sure you keep having fun, since as soon as it starts feeling like
hardwork you will loose momentum and your game may never end up being
finished. But like alot of people out there already say... is a game
ever "really" finished?