I usually reserve these pages for tools aimed at beginners or game designers who are more interested in results than nice tech. Of course, when you have two astounding game engines leaping at your face and screaming, “I’m free! I’m free!” it’s generally time to sit up and take notice.

Prepare to meet the Unreal Development Kit and the Unity Indie package. They’re large, they’re in charge, and they won’t cost the earth. Heck, play your cards right and they won’t cost anything at all.

Unity

unity

If there's one thing that developers note about Unity, it's the damn fine dev environment.

Chances are that even game development laymen have heard something about the Unity engine, by now. Its tendrils are steadily entwining several game platforms (most notably Web browsers and iPhones) and the titles produced with it are remarkably good – especially considering that it’s one of the most accessible “big” tools around.

Unity features an innovative WYSIWYG editor which is comparable to the sort found on much simpler tools, and yet it possesses an incredible level of power that makes it useful for … well, anyone. It’s one of those everyman tools which really doesn’t do anything wrong, and can create everything from monstrous 3D epics to fun and simple browser games.

Just note that this is not a free ticket to development on the iPhone: you still need to be a registered platform developer with a working copy of Unity iPhone. Insert other fine print where appropriate.

Get it here for great justice.

Unreal

Epic Games is possibly one of the most important game development groups in history. In the early days of game modding, they single-handedly brought about a game community revolution with the likes of UnrealEd and their extensive support of third-party material and creativity.

It seems only fitting, therefore, that the Unreal Development Kit is now freely available for anyone to use. This is important for various reasons: firstly, the Unreal Engine is what we like to call Serious Freaking Business™. It’s the driving force behind loads of today’s triple-A titles, and getting something like this for free is almost unbelievable.

Prometheus

Prometheus, a time-travelling "single play co-op" game that claimed second place in this year's Make Something Unreal competition.

Secondly, anybody who possesses the dev kit can play a whole manner of Unreal-based mods without actually owning any Unreal-based games, meaning that the modding community is set to enjoy not only a fresh injection of starry-eyed developers, but a major swell in its audience too.

There is one catch in this whole thing: games made with the dev kit are for non-commercial use only. There is, however, an interesting commercial license scheme geared at indies who don’t have the scratch for major projects: a dev license can be purchased for $99 when the game goes commercial, and no further costs will be incurred for the developer’s first $5000. After that, there’s a 25% royalty charge on all profits.

It should be noted that this is a fairly steep price in the long run, but for struggling indies who want to release a commercial game on the cheap (or a non-commercial game at absolutely no cost) the Unreal Development Kit may just be what’s needed. Just weigh it up carefully against the alternatives: tools like Unity are nothing to sniff at either, and in such cases come with no strings attached at all.

Find it and conquer.

More stuff like this: