Choose a .NET Game Engine
Developing games is multi-disciplined compared to developing business apps and services. Games need design skills spanning UI, audio, gameplay, and art direction. It also requires engineering skills for graphics, gameplay, audio, cloud services, and develops. Sometimes you need to get low level and play around with hardware registries in assembly to optimize performance for a specific device. Do you need to build all those layers yourself when making a game, or is there a better way? Of course, there is a better way. The .NET ecosystem offers many choices for folks like you who want to make games, but do not want to build everything from scratch. In my previous post, I showcased the diverse .NET game development landscape. In this post I will showcase some of the .NET game engines out there, and will help you choose which game engine is right for you.
Developers used to build their games from scratch each time. Now, developers have abstracted a lot of reusable code in their games and created a set of APIs and tools that they can reuse whenever they start a new game. These Game Engines contain abstractions of graphics, input, media API. They also might contain design tools and assets managers for visual and audio assets. You can think about them as an IDE but for more than just code. Some game companies started releasing their engines commercially.
With the popularity of C# more game engines started using .NET. The Mono runtime, now part of .NET 5, was a great choice because it was able to run C# code on many platforms including Android, iOS, PC, Mac, and Linux. Mono also supported dedicated game consoles like Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo platforms. Now with .NET including Mono with .NET 5, we are seeing some game engines getting ready to upgrade.
Engines built with .NET
MonoGame is a flexible engine. It can also be used as a framework to build other game engines with. It might have started as a multi-platform version of XNA, but it has advanced beyond that scope. MonoGame offers comprehensive APIs for game development and an asset management tool. MonoGame just got updates to version 3.8 where it uses .NET Core 3.1 and NuGet, with a plan to upgrade to .NET 5. MonoGame is so flexible other game engines use it as a base, for example FlatRedBall. Many indie developers use MonoGame for all their cross-platform game development.
Stride (formerly Xenko) is another pure C# and .NET engine that was developed by Silicon Studios. It’s a complete integrated engine with a graphical editor. Stride is now open-source and royalty free. Different parts of the engine can be used independently thanks to its modular design. Stride also uses .NET Core 3.1 in their latest 4.0 release. I really like the part in their documentation that focuses on folks who have used Unity before.
Another Engine that is purely .NET is WaveEngine. WaveEngine is free with many of its components open-sourced. Their latest 3.0 preview released just upgraded to .NET Core 3.1. It offers exciting features like running 3D scenes in a browser using .NET WebAssembly (Mono WASM), Azure remote rendering, and support for HoloLens 2. WaveEngine has many mixed reality features, like spatial audio, ready to use out of the box.
NeoAxis is an engine that was pointed out to me after I published my previous blog post about using .NET for game development. It’s also completely written with .NET, open-source, and royalty free. It supports a full set of features, in including the addition of Android support in the latest release.
Engines embedding .NET
Unity, developed in C++, was one of the earlier commercial engines to use .NET to provide C# scripting and multi-platform targeting. Unity is an integrated engine with a programming API interface as well as visual editing tools for graphics, audio, profiling, and debugging. Unity quickly became one of the most used game engine for all real-time graphics applications like games, VR, and simulations. There is a big ecosystem supporting Unity, from an asset store for plugins and starter packs, to game services like Microsoft Azure PlayFab. Unity is a commercial engine, but its free to use until certain revenue thresholds. It’s also free to use for some educational and personal uses.
Godot is a royalty free, multi-platform, open-source engine developed using C++. It’s a fully integrated game development engine. It also uses .NET to deliver C# scripting. Lately, Godot has been gaining popularity and its community is growing rapidly. It has also gained support and grants from both Microsoft and Epic games.
The famous CryEngine also uses .NET. The engine was built in C++, but it uses the .NET to enable C# scripting. It’s a powerful game engine with a great history powering AAA games. You only pay royalties when you exceed a revenue threshold.
Which engine is right for you?
The most important point when choosing a game engine is how to get support. For beginners, asking peers, or folks online for help is an essential part of learning and remaining motivated. For professionals, enterprise level support is essential to mitigate technical risks. By far, Unity has one of the biggest and most active communities. It also offers paid high-quality enterprise support. In addition, Unity also has one of the biggest ecosystems of services and plugins supporting the engine. Godot has also been gaining more popularity amongst hobbyists and its momentum has been accelerating as well.
Another thing to consider are your own skills, and how well an engine will support you. If you come from a .NET background and want the latest C# features, maybe a pure .NET engine like Stride, WaveEngine, or even MonoGame would suit you best. You can use all the familiar tools with them, like NuGet and the CLI.
An engine with active development gives you security that bugs will get fixed and new platforms and features will be added. Commercial engines might be better for you if that is a concern.
An important consideration when choosing an engine is the price. All the game engines mentioned above are free to start with. Some have royalties attached to them once you reach a revenue threshold. Some of the engines are completely free and royalty free. You choose where the loot goes depending on your financial plans.
Game design can dictate which engine you should use too. One engine might be more suitable than others for certain types of games. For example, using a fully integrated commercial engine to make a text-based adventure might be overkill.
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In my opinion, TerraFX (fully managed, light weight, using .net 5 function pointers directly,extremely performant) is the best future. See https://github.com/terrafx.
Thank you very much for reading feedback and for the mention NeoAxis Engine!
You are welcome. I am always listening to the community to teach new things.
Once again, the greatest and most popular game engines of all, Unreal Engine, is not even mentioned in a Microsoft gamedev topic…
I know it’s not C# or .net specific engine but not mentioning it AT ALL is quite shocking, as more than 30% of the current game on the market are made with it (and it’s the best of all, in my opinion). It is the better prepared for next gen and most of the upcoming XBox Series X titles are developed with it…
The topic of this article is “.NET Game Engines”; hence, it is natural not to name Unreal.
Also, Unreal is nowhere as popular as RPG Maker. Ren’Py, or even Adobe Flash. While Unreal is used only in triple-A games, millions of small, obscure games are created with the three that I named. If you don’t mind me asking, where did you get your suspicious “30%” anyway?
Hi Fleet Command, thank you for your reply.
I’m aware that this is an article about “.NET Game Engines”, but you may not know that Unreal Engine is now compatible with C# scripting via a plugin, as it is for the Cry Engine or Godot, which are also C++ engine with a support for .NET scripting. So it would have been justified to integrate Unreal Engine in the list, since it is considered as the second biggest game engine after Unity in term of market share.
About that, my “30%” evaluation of market share may not be accurate, I admit, since only Unity communicates on their 50% domination and I can’t give you a reference article (it might not exist). Even this share varies tremendously wether you’re talking about triple A, mobile gaming, AR/VR, PC or consoles. But I was referring to true commercial games that counts, multiplatforms, memorable and have great market share, not obscure “published somewhere on Steam that nobody knows” game. Many of those little games are done on RPG maker, for example, as you took this engine as a reference in you reply, but even if some are well known, this engine is clearly not the standard in the game industry.
As an indie game developper, the truth is there are 2 major choices today if you want to publish a game with A to AAA quality standard and it’s Unity or Unreal Engine. You can choose the open source way with Godot, the Amazon way with Lumberyard (another engine not credited in this article which is a major Cry Engine fork), but essentially, unless you are using a proprietary engine like Frostbite or RE Engine in your company, it is almost certain you will choose one of those two. All game schools around the world teach their students with these 2 engines, because they are the standard.
An article with “choose your game engine” as title and not evoking Unreal Engine at all misses something, in my opinion.
Think of all the major games in history, best sellers, masterpieces, you will see that a large number of them were done in Unreal Engine 1 to 4 : Fortnite, of course (even though it’s far from my favorite), Gears of War, Batman Arkham Trilogy, Borderland Trilogy, Mass Effect Trilogy, Dishonored, Bioshock, the new Tekken, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Injustice and Soul Edge fighting games, most of the Tom Clancy’s titles like the Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six Series, Fables Series, Sea of Thieves, Life is Strange 1 & 2, Rocket League, X-Com, even racing games like MotoGP or great remakes like Final Fantasy VII, Spyro The Dragon and Crash Bandicoot. This list could go forever 😉
I made this remark to point out the fact that, generally, being an indie developper attending to many Microsoft conferences these past few years on the topic of gaming, Unreal Engine is too rarely listed or cited. It can’t be just by chance, the long history of love / hate between Epic and Microsoft seems to keep an awkward relationship between them even nowadays and it’s too bad because I like both of them and regret that Unreal Engine is too often “snubbed” by Microsoft in article and conferences like this one.
I hope it will change in the days to come, since many big triple A titles coming to XBox & PC exclusively are developped on UE, like Hellblade 2 and The Medium. UE is a tremendous showcase tool for next gen. Sony understood it with the PS5 UE5 tech demo. It’s a missed opportunity for XBox, and propably linked to the awkward relationship between Microsoft and Epic in my opinion… I hope I am mistaken, of course.
Sorry bud but that article is old… this is the Repo for the extension https://github.com/pixeltris/USharp and its archived now… Microsoft is investing resources into Companies that are investing resources into C#. Epic is NOT officially supporting C# at this time, therefore Microsoft is not investing resources into Unreal, its that simple. You are over analyzing too much and you bias is based on out date info. As an indie dev I also tried to code in Unreal with C# and it was a joke to get started, so I moved to Unity and now to Stride.
@PoisnFang how do you like your experience with Stride?
Thank you very much for this amazing article! It is always nice too see what other resources are out there for C# game dev other than Unity.
I’m sad there is no mention of how well each engine supports using F#.
MonoGame technically supports F#
Technically, they seem to have dropped F# years ago. So you’d have to install an older version and not expect much in the way of support.
Hello! If you mentioned NeoAxis, then know that this is a binding to OGRE, and this graphics engine practically stopped developing after the departure of the mentor Sinbad.
I think current version of NeoAxis works on top of bgfx.
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