We have to say game development is the hottest area in many computer science businesses. Partly because of its rapid development in recent years, also its massive potential to bring back much benefit to its owners. Now let’s focus on the technology in game development: When many people hear the term "game development software", they tend to think of game engines. But they don’t know that the two notions are different. Game development is a highly complex and interdisciplinary process, and a game engine is just one of many tools a game developer or designer may need.
You will not find an all-in-one tool that does it all, and depending on the details of your project and your developers’ level of experience, a completely different set of game development software may be needed. Here is our list of the most popular solutions that you should know:
Best game planning & documentation tools
Planning and documentation may not be the "sexiest" parts of game development, but they are as relevant to the success of your game as a clean and consistent codebase. A combination of Google Docs and Sheets may be enough if your game development project is simple and small in scope. More complex projects, however, require a more sophisticated project management and documentation tool, such as Nuclino - an ultra-lightweight and fast tool for collaborative game design documentation, worldbuilding, and project planning. Other planning and internal documentation tools you may want to evaluate include:
- Trello: one of the oldest and simplest Kanban tools on the market
- Confluence: a powerful software documentation tool for large game development projects
- HacknPlan: a project management tool made specifically for game development
- Basecamp: a general-purpose tool that brings together to-do lists, docs, files, and more
Best 2D game engines
For 2D games, one of the most popular game engines is GameMaker Studio 2. It provides a full-stack approach to game design, offering tools for programming, sound, logic, level design, and compilation. It's also a great choice for novice game developers with limited programming skills. Its simple and intuitive visual scripting system allows you to select actions and events from their extensive built-in library to craft any game you desire. And if you do have some programming background, it will come in handy and enable you to implement further customizations. If you are a more experienced game developer and are looking for a more advanced solution, you may also want to consider Unity. It's one of the most popular game engines for indie games with impressive 2D and 3D capabilities.
Unity has a steeper learning curve than GameMaker Studio, but its active community and wide selection of tutorials provide more than enough support to beginners. Other 2D game engines you may want to consider include: RPG Maker - a JRPG-style 2D game development software. GDevelop - a free, open-source, no-code 2D game engine.
Best 3D game engines
Two of the unquestionable market leaders in this space are Unreal Engine and Unity. Unreal Engine is the game development software of choice for leading AAA game studios. It powers such iconic games as Unreal Tournament, BioShock, Dishonored, Borderlands, and Fortnite. This platform is packed with a variety of cutting-edge, advanced features and allows developers to render unbelievably realistic visuals. Not unexpectedly, it also has an exceptionally high learning curve and is best suited for experienced, professional game developers.
Unity, on the other hand, is more popular among indie game developers and smaller studios. It's immensely powerful and versatile and is particularly well-suited for mobile game development. Unity was used to build such popular games as Valheim, Among Us, Cities: Skylines, Escape From Tarcov, Assassin’s Creed: Identity, and more.
Also, there are dozens of other great but lesser-known 3D game development tools that are worth checking out:
- CryEngine: a cutting-edge 3D game development platform
- Godot: free and open-source 3D and 2D game engine
- Buildbox: a no-code 2D and 3D game development software
- Lumberyard: a freeware game engine developed by Amazon
Best 3D modeling tools
There is no simple answer to the question "What's the best 3D modeling software for game development?". The truth is, most professional game designers use a combination of different tools for modeling, sculpting, and texturing. Quite commonly, game designers begin their work by sketching their concept art in a tool like Photoshop or Krita. They then use Maya, 3DS, or Blender to create a model. The next step is sculpting, which can be done in ZBrush. Finally, the 3D model will need to be retopologized, for which the designer will need to come back to Maya, 3DS, or Blender. But if you are looking to reduce the number of tools and start simple, you may want to pick Blender. It offers the most complete toolset for 3D art and supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline, including modeling, animation, rendering, compositing, and motion tracking. It's also open-source and completely free. And if you don't want to spend time making your models from scratch, there are many great databases of ready-to-use 3D models. For example, if you need a model of a vehicle, spacecraft, or weapon for your game, you can browse the collection of Hum3D models, and if you're looking for character models, you can check out Sketchfab.
Best audio editing software
Audio is a vital component of any game, though its value is often underestimated. While mechanics and graphics are important, music and sound effects can have a tremendous impact on how immersive your game will be. While many game engines have built-in audio tools that can suffice for certain simpler games, in terms of audio quality and ease of implementation, a dedicated tool is almost always better. There are several great DAWs (Digital Audio Workspaces), designed specifically for game development. One of the most advanced tools is FMOD. It's an end-to-end solution for adding adaptive audio to any game. FMOD is ready to use with Unity and UE4 and can be easily integrated with other engines using its comprehensive API. It's free for developers with less than $200k revenue per year. Another option you may want to consider is Wwise. While it's less user-friendly than FMOD, it's significantly more powerful.