You’ve read up on game engines, mobile game makers, libraries, tutorials and forums for developing a mobile game. But now you have to choose which tools to use.
There’s plenty of choice for both iOS, Android and lots of tools cover cross-platform development or code natively for the two larger platforms. There’s really no such thing as the “best android game engine” or the “best iOS game engine” – they all have their pros and cons and the key is which one you’ll be more comfortable with.
Whether you’ve had a great idea for a mobile game but have no clue on where to start, or you’re an experienced mobile game developer wanting to take it to the next level, this article is for you.
Below is a list of all the resources necessary to get started developing games for iOS and Android, learn new skills, and keep abreast of trends, divided in the following categories:
- Mobile Game Makers
- Game Engines
- Asset, Libraries and Software
- Tutorials, Forums and Resources
- Mobile development Forums
Categories have brief explanations for beginners, and each link below has a line on what it does, ranging from game engines and builders to tutorials and articles. You can also find these and other services in our app development tools directory.
Mobile Game Makers
There are so many code-less programs to make mobile games these days you’re basically spoilt for choice.
Learning to code is always advisable, but a great way to get into mobile game development is making a game with a visual interface to then examine what’s going on in the code behind the curtains.
These are among the best mobile-game-specific, both code-less and and not. The downside to code-less? You don’t get as much flexibility (though more flexibility often implies more complexity), and sometimes you have to give attribution to the game-building software or pay to use it.
Construct 2 – Described as the “Photoshop for games”, an HTML5-game creator with an “event-based” interface, meaning no coding is required to make your game. It also allows porting your game to multiple platforms.
GameMaker – A very popular platform, it caters to all levels of developers. The visual drag-amd-drop interface and lets you build games for Android and iOS, has workflow control and exporting tools.
Styncyl –Another codeless game creator, this deserves to be up there with the best: a clean visual interface, it publishes for iOS and Android.
PlayMaker+Unity – Playmaker is a visual scripting tool for the Unity engine – it makes life easier for Unity devs, but does require some experience. If you use Unity already, this is a great addition to your toolkit.
Fusion 2.5 – Clickteam’s Fusion 2.5 lets you compile both apps and games for both iOS and Android. Aimed at all experience levels.
PlayIR – Another multi-platform game developer, this one very much concentrates on beginners designig their first app or game, with a drag-and-drop interface, visual design tools, 3D animators and pre-existing templates.
GameSalad – This game-development tool is almost as beautiful as the games it makes, and more than 65,000 games developed speak to its simplicity. Three of those, like Help Volty, even made it to the top of the US App Store.
Gideros Mobile – Open source, free and multiplatform, this game maker uses LUA to develop apps and games – while it does use Object-Oriented Programming, it does require a modicum of experience.
LiveCode – More of a coding platform than a game maker, it nonetheless stresses simplicity of use and accessibility, while also letting you create games or apps. Says it ports between iOS and Android.
Game Editor – Uses C to make games, meaning it is cross platform and open source that’s free to use, provided that the game is open source. Good place to start learning programming.
The Game Editor trailer
The above are “game makers” – the tools with which you create your game, but the thing that actually makes a game run is the engine: the collection of rules and algorithms that dictate how things function. Much like in a car, you’ll definitely need one!
Game engines provide core functionalities to make the foundations of a game. These include graphic rendering (both 2D and 3D), AI, sound, physics and animation. Engines are the software that makes the game “work”.
There’s a large range of these for mobile games, which are often optimised for performance on mobile devices, but require a bit more experience and effort from the user.
If any of these seem out of your reach, don’t worry! We also have a list of tutorials further down.
Cross platform (iOS/Android)
Unity Mobile – Mobile version of the biggest and most popular game engine, Unity. Currently on “Unity 5”, it supports iOS and Android, requires experience but has pretty much anything you’ll ever need.
Unreal Development Kit – Industry-leading together with Unity – has a free version and is used to create games for all platforms, as well as 3D simulations and apps. Experience required but can’t go wrong.
Corona SDK – One of the more popular app development platforms that isn’t Unity or Unreal, supports iOS and Android and offers a wide range of tools to go with it, including deep-linking cards and training.
Marmalade – A strong and popular game dev tool for cross-platform native games and apps in C/C++ and deploy to both mobile and desktop. Supports both Android and iOS. Used by top developers, also has an asset store.
Plants vs. Zombies 2 was made with Marmalade
Edgelib – A “middleware” solution that allows for both 2D and 3D development on both platforms. Comes both free and with a paid-for licensed version.
JMonkey Engine – A Java OpenGL engine that is free and open-source, its 3.1 Alpha has just released. Allows porting to all OpenGL 2-compatible devices.
Cocos2D-x – One of the strongest and most famous free-to-use frameworks for building 2D games on both platforms.
Badland, by Frogmind, was made with Cocos and won iPad Game of the Year in 2013
Esenthel Engine – A high performance engine with ease of use in mind, it works for Android and iOS and can be used on both Windows and Mac. Offers free and subscription-based versions with access to the source code.
ShiVa3D – 3D “What you see is what you get” game engine and editor, it supports all major platforms and offers a whole dev toolkit, from workflow management to LUA coding. Three versions available one of which is free.
Libdx – Free to use development platform for Android 3D/2D. Open source under Apache 2.0, offers discounts on game development books too.
Orx – Orx’s developer is very active, and says the framework is both portable and an open-source, lightweight 2D engine.
Fully Bugged Little Cells was made with Orx
App Game Kit – This uses a BASIC language and is available on Steam. You can code natively or write your app once before deploying on multiple platforms including the two major ones.
Starling – Rovio uses this cross-platform framework to develop Angry Birds, and they’re not the only ones. It is free to use and opensource. Of note is its low CPU-usage and great optimisation.
PlayCanvas – On top of being an open source WebGL engine for iOS and Android, PlayCanvas offers to host games developed with it for free. Fully 3d and open source.
PowerVR – An SDK and developer tools to make any kind of app, its forum isn’t very active, but it does offer a specific program for universities wanting to use the platform.
iOS specific game engines
iTorque – Now available as MIT opensource software, this 2d game-editor for all iOS device development was used for Bellatorus and Sushi to Go, among others.
Sparrow – Starling’s iOS-specific little brother. Free-to-use and open source, it uses Objective-C and was built from scratch for iOS.
Oolong – Written in C++, this free-to-use engine can both create new games and port existing ones to iOS devices.
Newton – As the name implies, this is an open source life-like-physics simulation library. Free-to-use but does require some basic knowledge of physics to employ effectively.
DragonFire – A C++ 2D iOS development tool to be used in Windows. Was used for games like Ghost Jumper and Little Fish, and can also create App-Store-ready apps.
NinevehGL – 3D engine built on OpenGL ES with Objective C, it features the ability to import 3D models directly from any software, multiple shaders within a single object and numerous special effects.
Android specific game engines
Candroid – Free-to-use engine for Android. If you like it, donations are appreciated by the creator.
Android Arsenal – A collection of different Android libraries, from colour pickers to ads, layouts, scrollers and more.
jPCT AE – Free, light-weight 3D game engine that’s a port of jPCT for Android and Java. Supports OpenGL ES 1.x and 2.0.
Android Box2D – This is 2D physics engine written in C++ for Android developers which has even won some awards. Used to create the Crayon Physics Deluxe game, and ports for other platforms are available.
Catcake – A free 3D graphics engine for Android (and possibly iOS) – light-weight, comes with its own debug console and plenty of management features.
Sound and Light Engines
Audiokinetic – Audiokinetic’s Wwise is a multiplatform-compatible sound engine which integrates with Unity, Unreal, Marmalade and more. Comes with built-in sound effects and ready-made plugins.
Geomerics – Geomerics produce Enlighten, a dynamic global illumination technology compatible with pretty much every platform under the sun, and behind AAA games like Star Wars Battlefront.
An example of the lighting effects provided by Enlighten
ARM Developer Center – A suite of tools ranging from an OpenGL ES emulator to texture compression and asset export, this is one for the more experienced developers.
It’s all well and good putting things together with an engine but… what are you putting together, exactly? That’s where asset libraries come in.
Asset Libraries and Software
So often, the aesthetics and the sounds can be the difference between a good game and a great game, and fantastic art can be a great promotional tool too.
The quality of free-to-use art and sound assets on the internet can be high, but always remember to attribute the creator: it’s often not necessary, it’s just good manners. This is a list of mostly-free assets and repositories.
OpenGameArt – Extremely large repository of videogame art assets. Most of it is free with only proper accreditation required. Also has themed collections of assets.
SpriteLib – One man’s sprite library, created over twenty years ago but completely free and open license.
FreeSound.org – Free sound repository, updated fairly frequently and with a very large variety of sounds.
HasGraphics – Repository of free art assets for Indie game developers. Hasn’t been updated in years but it still has a sizeable library.
Blender – 3D model and animation software, it is free, open source and very powerful. While it has its own plug-ins for Android game creation, it’s best used to create assets and animate them elsewhere. A highly professional tool, it does require experience.
Blender Models – Library of user-submitted 3D blender models. Updated and used very frequently, there’s nothing stopping you using the models directly into your game, but do credit the creator.
Autodesk – The famous design software company known by engineers and designers worldwide is great for making 3D models for your game. Doesn’t get more professional than this.
But of course, little of this is useful if you don’t know how to use it! Which brings us to:
Tutorials, Forums and Resources
The links below are a great place to start reading and developing your knowledge of game development.
The industry moves quickly, with new advancements, standards, plug-ins, games and much more being developed every day.
We’ve selected some free online tutorials, guides to mobile game development, to the admin side of things and the all-important submission to app stores.
Some of these guides are dated, but good advice never goes out of style, and it’s always valuable when starting from scratch.
Raywenderlich.com – A collection of written, video and podcast tutorials can be found, covering all sorts of engines and frameworks for iOS, Android and more.
Cocos2D Flappy Bird Guide – Create a Flappy Bird clone with this step-by-step guide, using Cocos2D and Sprite Builder. Solutions can be found on Github.
Learn Cocoa – A very large database of tutorials, guides and resources on learning the ins and outs of the cocoa engine.
Intro to Swift – Free tutorial on Apple’s programming language, Swift, in which you create a Tetris clone to learn the ropes.
Complete iOS Game Tutorial – Part 1 of a game-making tutorial that will have you develop an iOS version of the famous Pong, including examples of code.
iDevgames Programming for beginners – A bit dated (2013) but it covers all the basics and has a good intro: a four page beginner’s guide to iOS game development. Includes libraries, engines and programming languages.
Triple Town by SpryFox
Handmade Hero – A bit left-of-field but well worth a look, this is a game accompanied with videos which explain every single line of code within it: a great idea, and good for learning while having fun.
Building Your First App – The official Android introductory lesson on app building for their platform. Pretty much anyone who develops for Android should read this.
KiloBot – A game developer that has published free tutorials for Android. Hasn’t been updated in a while but a very good resource to start with.
App Fundamentals – Guide from the official Android website, this one is aimed at complete beginners and is on fundamentals like components, the manifest and resources.
Android Application Development Videos – The New Boston has a huge number of tutorial videos for all sorts of platforms: the Android playlist linked here currently has 200 videos in it.
Android Game Development – Wide knowledge-base and plenty of articles on Android development by Javacodegeeks.
Mobile development forums
The wisdom of crowds is often the best way to resolve a problem.
If you’re having an issue with creating a game, chances are someone else has also had it, asked the question and found an answer.
Forums are indispensable for this, both to get solutions and to see what other people are doing, to be inspired and keep in the loop of game development.
One thing: if you find the solution to your own problem, make sure to post it underneath your question so others who look it up can benefit from your discovery.
Apple Developer Forums – The official Apple developer forums. Requires membership of the Apple Developer Program to access.
MacRumours Forum – iOS dev sub forum for the popular Apple news blog MacRumours. Active and full of resources
iPhone Dev Sub Reddit – An extremely active and well-organised subreddit, with extensive FAQs, tutorial links and discussions.
Android Dev Sub-Reddit – The SubReddit for Android developers. Good source of news, with plenty of discussion, but not the best place to look for technical, nitty-gritty answers.
Cross Platform Forums
Stack Overflow – The indispensable resource for programmers, and the best place to ask any kind of question and get answers. All platforms supported, non-mobile too, and a good search engine to find previously-asked questions.
Corona Forums – The official forum for discussion of iOS and Android development framework Corona. Great resource and very active.
Gamasutra – Programming news, updates, how-to guides and tutorials from various authors. Not platform-specific.
News and Reviews
Develop – News website covering all aspect of game design, from business to coding to art. Excellent source to stay on top of trends.
Gamesauce – Great source of news, inspiration and post-mortem aimed specifically at game designers, indie or otherwise.
Pocket Gamer – Mobile-only game review and news site, covers new releases, best-ofs, videos, walkthroughs and has an indie-specific section.
There you have it: an exhaustive list of resources to dive right into mobile game development. The resources are out there are aplenty, but we believe this curated list should answer your beginner questions and provide you with plenty of food for thought and resources well into your game-dev hobby or even career!