As the old saying goes, everybody has at least one good game in them. To make a good mobile game, you’ll need the right development tools, and there’s plenty out there. In this article we look at the top game development tools for creating an Android-based game. We’ve covered a few engines, from the larger ones like Unity to more niche products like Moai.
Not everyone has the time to learn C++, or their game might be simple enough to not need that kind of detail and control. Then again, the larger game engines, and those that allow you to change the source code, might be just what you need to create precisely the game you want, and in 3D no less. So we’ve covered a range of tools to make sure there’s something there for all game developers and game types. We’ve divided the list below according to the size and scope of the platforms: “Big Hitters” arethe biggest engines out there with the highest amount of tools, “Mid-Level” are for relatively experienced developers who want to improve, and “Entry Level” are for those just starting out and looking to make their first game.
This is the list:
Unity 3D has to top the list: fully supporting 3D game development, it is the most polished tool out there (together with Unreal Engine), offering plenty of monetisation tools on top of its dev suite, and is free if your game makes less than $100,000 yearly revenue. It’s been used to create some of the most popular games out there, including Monument Valley, and although it does not let you dig into the source code, you’ll probably never need to.
- Pros: Free up to $100,000, the most polished engine out there, massive community and support network
- Cons: Gets expensive with extra features and add ons. No source code access unless you pay. BIG.
- Example Games: N.O.V.A, ChronoBlade, Monument Valley
Made with Unity: Monument Valley Release Trailer
Unreal Engine 4 is one of the big-hitters in the list, offering an extremely sophisticated set of tools, complete access to its C++ source code and full 3D support. Its pricing plan costs nothing until your game reaches $3000/quarter, at which point 5% of royalties go to Unreal, though one-off payments without royalties can also be organised. Its community is also extremely active, and it has a large knowledge base available online, with tutorial videos and extensive documentation.
- Pros: Complete source C++ access, visual scripting, good UI
- Cons: Few extensions, hard to make your own workflows or effects, not great for collaboration
- Example Games: Shadowgun: Deadzone, Epic Citadel, Wild Blood
Made with Unreal Engine 4: SHADOWGUN: Deadzone 2.0 Trailer
Marmalade markets itself as the quickest cross-platform development engine, and its low-level language does indeed make its apps run very fast – further to that, one of its major upsides is “write once, run anywhere”. All of its five pricing plans (the cheapest being free) give you access to the SDK, and the lowest tier starts at $15 dollars/month. The engine offers great physics support and can produce 3d games, but it does feature a lot of coding instead of visual scripting, so is perhaps best avoided by beginners.
- Pros: No Mac required to compile iOS code, very good performance, low-level language
- Cons: Low-level language, can require extension-making, slower to make apps
- Example Games: Plants vs. Zombies, Bejeweled Blitz
Made with Marmalade: Plants vs. Zombies 2 Android Gameplay
GameMaker Studio has been featured a number of times in the Humble Bundle, which alone is a testament to how good the tool is. Released in 1999, it was used to create notable hits like Hotline Miami and Spelunky. Using the GML language, it creates games by using a library of pre-set “events” which then trigger in-game actions, making for an intuitive game-building experience. Also note that it only supports Android 2.3 onwards, and given the level of complexity if can offer, is best suited for junior developers (as opposed to total beginners).
- Pros: Simple to use, wide support base
- Cons: Some 3d Support, clunky language
- Example Games: Tiamat X, Savant – Ascent, Default Dan
Made with GameMaker: Tiamat X Gameplay
Appypie is a fairly new player to the game-making-platform business, but the entire company is geared towards providing tools for non-coders to make applications and games. With various price plans available, it offers a lot of flexibility for those starting out, as well as ready-made templates of games and a drag-and-drop user interface. The upside of having its own app marketplace is that publishing to it is extremely easy, but there is no support to publish to the App Store or Google Play – that’s up to you.
- Pros: Out-the-box templates, whitelabel projects available, very easy to use
- Cons: Manual submission to app stores, very recent means few user reviews
- Games Made: NA
Appypie Makes a Game
Moai‘s main advantage is there are no frills attached: it is free, open source and will create games for every platform under the sun, and works with Linux as well as Mac and Windows. The platform is Lua based and uses C++ and writes games with clean code and gives the developer a lot of flexibility in how to do things: this can be a curse for a beginner or someone who wants to get on with game design without too much coding.
- Pros: Open source means you can change the engine as you wish
- Cons: Little documentation, not easy for beginners
- Games Made: Freedom Falls, Lost in Paradise, Invisible Inc.
Made with Moai: Freedom Fall Trailer
Corona is the highly polished, extremely popular game development tool made by Corona Labs, and despite being so polished and with extensive API documentation, it comes with three price plans, starting at “Free”. Its cross platform, covering iOS, Android and Kindle, and has a strong focus on good-looking games with various media and easy monetisation. Corona does not have a visual scripting tool, so it is best for people who have some experience in coding, though being based on Lua, it is very easy for a developer to pick the language up.
- Pros: Strong community support, emulator functions well for testing, no IDE, write once; run anywhere
- Cons: Some key add-ons have to be paid for, limited plug-ins.
- Games Made: Streetfood Tycoon, Gravity Maze
Made with Corona: Streetfood Tycoon Gameplay
Gideros Mobile recently became a free engine, and being open source means it is highly customisable and efficient. Based on C/C++ and OpenGL, it makes your apps run at native speeds on devices, and while the IDE has everything you need to develop out-the-box (texture packer, font creator), there is also a large market of third-party plugins. Also features a very active and friendly community on its forums.
- Pros: Very quick to test apps, easy learning curve, OOP supports iOS, Windows and Android
- Cons: No visual scripting, no publishing support
- Games Made: Galactic Blaster, Miner Z
Made with Gideros Mobile: Galactic Blaster Screenshots
Fusion 2.5 is a great visual scripting tool to start working on simple 2D games, and particularly apt for side-scrolling shooters and point-and-click games. Its modular price plan mean you can pay for either Android or iOS exports, as well as choosing between the basic and “developer” versions: the developer version adds a number of monetization features like integration with admob and in-app purchases. It’s also on Steam, so you can always wait for a sale and develop a pen-and-paper concept in the meantime
- Pros: Visual programming, pay only for what you want, easy learning curve
- Cons: Pay extra to publish for iOS, extra modules can cost money
- Example Games: Lost Jelly, Dead of Day, Megacity
Made with Fusion 2.5: Megacity Gameplay
GameSalad, a very intuitive platform, uses a clear drag-and-drop interface to build games and is often a “gateway” to learn game creation concepts. It covers all major platforms (including the Kindle) without any extra coding, however it does not feature 3d support. One of its main upsides is the in-app testing tool which allows you see how your game will function on each platform- some would say that’s all you need, as 80+ apps developed with it reached the top 100 games in the App Store, with 3 number ones.
- Pros: Simple to use, two price plans, good prototyping
- Cons: Limited in its graphical assets, no full 3d support
- Example Game Volty
Made with GameSalad: Volty Trailer
Stencyl is a cross-platform game engine suited for complete beginners. It only supports tile-based 2D games and while it starts off free for web publishing, it has additional pricing plans if you want to publish in Android. This effectively means you can have a free trial to test its drag-and-drop interface and multiple tools before deciding to export to another platform. As Stencyl itself puts it, it features a “high level Lego block” style of development, but the engine also gives you the chance to change the code behind the visuals.
- Pros: Behaviour-based programming ideal for beginners, very good visual tools (texture and sprite creators included)
- Cons: Little collaboration support, all documentation online (no offline help), weak debugging
- Example Game: Ghost Song, Mibibli’s Quest
Made with Stencyl: Ghost Song Official Trailer
We know, we know: you can’t wait to make that game a reality now. We hope we’ve provided you some good recommendations as to the best development tools for your idea, now pick your favourite and get developing. Most of all, have fun creating your game.