Bootstraps Vs Tall Shoulders

Should I use a game engine or not? Initially my gut reaction is to resist. I don’t want to use someone else’s work. It is the seductive calling of the American work ethic. An opportunity to grab my bootstraps and pull myself up, to make something out of myself, to learn how everything works and becoming a true master. The sweat, tears, and blood every great achievement requires. A grand achievement filling me with pride.

Only one problem: time. If I am going to make a living doing this I can’t spend ten-year getting ready. I need a jump-start. I have to use every advantage I can find. I need to stand on as many tall shoulders as I can find. A game engine is clearly the smart move.

But what do I need from an engine? I definitely need something cheap. Ideally it would be free, but I could probably afford to spend a couple grand. You’ve got to spend money to make money, right? I also need resources for learning and troubleshooting. An engine with good support and a large user group is a must. The track record will have to be good, one that includes upgrades and improvements. I don’t need cutting edge technology per say, but I also don’t want my games to look like they where built in the 80s.

There are a lot of engines out there but most won’t work for me. I’m in this to make a living and many make that more difficult, especially the open source ones. I like the open source community but all the licenses’ require that I distribute the source code. This sounds like a potential distraction and time waster. Sure the time and energy is probably small, but time is precious and I want all of it focused on making games.

Open source also forces you to relinquish control over any modifications you make. If I developed some clever trick, process or technique I would have to give it up to the public domain. This does not sound like a formula for self-employment.

My final objection is the devil in the details. Many of the contracts are unclear to a layman like myself and have me worried that I’d be giving up my copyrights to the art, music, and characters. If I know anything, it’s that a clear right to my characters is very important, can you say Laura Craft?

One engine that I really like is Garage Games’s Torque Engine. The license doesn’t have the negatives of open source plus some great benefits. You get the source code with only a few restrictions all for $100. If you are a big success down the road you’ll have to pay $10,000 a title but that is after you hit the $500,000 revenue mark! Sounds good to me!

Unfortunately, there is a fly in ointment. I would be responsible for keeping the engine up to date. I couldn’t count on future releases and updates to work well with any modifications I made. This defeats the point! I need a tool that is going to stay up to date without sucking up my time.

So I’ve settled on 3D GameStudio from Conitec. It has a cheap $49 starting fee and the bells and whistles version with a super flexible license is $899. It has been updated several times and offered for a modest upgrade fee. It has a proven track record with a large user group and many released professional titles including the 3D Hunting series by MacMillan. My favorite part is all the tools you need are included. So I don’t have to learn or buy any 3rd parties tools in order to finish my games.

What is the downside? It only supports DirectX. This means locking into the Windows world with no porting potential. But in reality I’m just starting out and if this gets me selling games on Windows it will be one more platform than I have now!

Philip Ludington aka Mr. Phil is a computer programmer who dreams of making computer games for a living, but is highly prone to procastination.