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A small state-of-the-art study on custom engines

CUSTOM GAME ENGINES: A Small Study

a_plague_tale

A couple of weeks ago I played (and finished) A Plague Tale, a game by Asobo Studio. I was really captivated by the game, not only by the beautiful graphics but also by the story and the locations in the game. I decided to investigate a bit about the game tech and I was surprised to see it was developed with a custom engine by a relatively small studio. I know there are some companies using custom engines but it's very difficult to find a detailed market study with that kind of information curated and updated. So this article.

Nowadays lots of companies choose engines like Unreal or Unity for their games (or that's what lot of people think) because developing a custom AAA-level engine requires lots of resources, so, I decided to list here some of the most popular custom engines with the team-sizes and notable titles released with those engines.

Most of the engines listed here have been developed along the years with multiple iterations and multiple videogames, those engines have gone through several versions or even complete (or semi-complete) rewrites from scratch, with a consequent engine name change. Also, important to note, most of those engines use numerous middleware for specific functionalities (Platform, Physics, Network, Vegetation, UI, Rendering, Audio...).

*NOTE: I tried to be as much accurate as possible with the information about the employees count (I checked the companies websites, Wikipedia or company LinkedIn) but take it with a grain of salt (some employees numbers could not be up to date).

The BIG Companies

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*From left to right: Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Final Fantasy XV, Red Dead Redemption 2

Below list is for very big corporations, sometimes with complex corporate structures with several divisions (not only focused on videogames) and various studios/subsidiaries developing games. Some of them work with multiple engines, not only custom ones but also licensed ones.

Company Employees Studios Engine(s) Notable Games
Activision/Blizzard ~9200 ~9 custom engine(s) Warcraft series, Diablo series, Starcraft series, Call of Duty series, Overwatch
Electronic Arts ~9300 ~36 Frostbite Star Wars Battlefront II, Anthem, Battlefield 1/V, FIFA 20, Need for Speed series
Ubisoft ~16000 ~54 AnvilNext 2.0 Assassin's Creed series
Disrupt engine Watch Dogs series
UbiArt Framework Rayman Legends, Child of Light, Valiant Hearts
Snowdrop Tom Clancy's The Division 2, The Settlers
Dunia (CryEngine-based) FarCry series
Silex (Anvil-based) Ghost Recon Wildlands
LEAD engine Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell series
Dunia-based The Crew
Capcom +2800 ~15 MT Framework Monster Hunter: World
RE Engine Resident Evil 7, Devil May Cry 5, RE2:Remake, RE3:Remake
Konami +10000 ~30 Fox Engine Pro Evolution Soccer series, Metal Gear Solid V
Square Enix +4600 ~18 Luminous Studio Final Fantasy XV
Nintendo +6100 ~8 custom engine(s) Zelda: BOTW, Mario Odyssey
Riot Games ~2500 ~3 custom engine League of Legends
Rockstar +2000 ~9 RAGE engine GTA V, Red Dead Redemption 2
CD Projekt +1100 ~4 REDEngine 3 The Witcher 3
Epic +1000 ~11 Unreal Engine 4 Fortnite

Usually those companies invest in custom engines to have full control over the technology and also avoid the revenue cut imposed by the licensed engines. Despite that fact, there are some big companies that in the latest years have chosen Unreal Engine for their productions, the most notable cases are:

  • Capcom is using Unreal for the new Street Fighter V title.
  • Bandai Namco latest big hits are using Unreal: Jump Force, Dragon Ball Fighter Z, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, Tales of Arise.
  • Square Enix also moved to Unreal for several new titles: Dragon Quest XI, Kingdom Hearts III, Final Fantasy VII Remake

It's interesting to see that those big three are Japanesse companies, I wonder if that's maybe a market trend for Japan. Also to note, the chinesse holding Tencent owns 40% of Epic Games, I bet it has some influence in the Asian market.

Middle-size Studios

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*From left to right: Rise of the Tomb Raider, Uncharted 4, A Plague Tale

Here we have the medium-small companies that decided to create their custom technology for their titles.

The number of employees could be a nice reference to consider because a custom game engine is usually developed in-house (I mean, not outsourced) but note that some of those companies could have a big number of people due to in-house artist/audio teams, while other companies out-source those parts of the development.

It would be really nice to know how many engineers are working on the engine division for each company, I'm sure there would be some big surprises, probably by the low number of engineers working in the engine and tools!

Also interesting to know more info about the tooling included with those engines, it's really difficult to have access to that kind of information. Engines tooling is usually a hidden-secret (beside some GDC presentations or some quick showcase videos).

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*From left to right: Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, Death Stranding

Company Employees Engine Notable Games
Creative Assembly +650 Warscape Engine Total War series
Bungie ~600 Tiger Engine Destiny series
Infinity Ward +500 IW 7.0 Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Eidos-Montréal ~500 Dawn Engine (Glacier2-based) Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Bethesda ~400 Creation Engine Skyrim, Fallout 4, Fallout 76
Valve Corp. ~360 Source 2 Dota 2, Half-Life: Alyx
Crystal Dynamics ~350 Foundation Engine Rise/Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Avalanche Studios ~320 Apex engine Just Cause series, Renegade Ops, Mad Max, RAGE 2
Naughty Dog +300 Naughty Dog Game Engine Uncharted series, Last of Us
Rebellion Developments ~300 Asura engine Alien vs. Predator series, Sniper Elite series
Techland ~300 Chrome Engine 6 Dying Light
Crytek ~290 CryEngine V The Climb, Hunt:Showdown
From Software +280 Dark Souls engine Bloodborne, Dark Souls III, Sekiro
Remedy +250 Northlight Engine Quantum Break, Control
Guerrilla Games +250 Decima Killzone Shadow Fall, Until Dawn, Horizon Zero Dawn
Larian Studios +250 Divinity Engine Divinity series
Platinum Games ~250 Platinum Engine NieR Automata, Bayonetta, Vanquish
Santa Monica Studio +200 custom engine God Of War series
id Software +200 idTech 6/7 Doom, Doom Eternal, Wolfenstein series
Sucker Punch +200 custom engine Infamous Second Son, Ghost of Tsushima?
Insomniac Games ~180 Insomniac Engine Rachet&Clank series, Marvel's Spider-Man
Quantic Dreams ~180 custom engine Detroit: Become Human
IO Interactive ~170 Glacier2 Hitman series
Asobo Studio +140 Zouna A Plague Tale
Ready At Dawn ~120 custom engine The Order: 1886, Lone Echo
Mercury Steam ~110 custom engine Spacelords, Castlevania:Lords of Shadow series
Monolith Productions +100 LithTech F.E.A.R. series, Condemned series, Shadow of Mordor/War
11 Bit Studios ~100 Liquid Engine Frostpunk
Frozenbyte ~100 Storm3D Trine series, Shadowgrounds
Kylotonn ~100 KtEngine WRC series, TT Isle of Man series, V-Rally 4
TaleWorlds Entertainment ~100 custom engine Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord
Daedalic Entertainment ~90 Visionaire Studio The Whispered World, Deponia series
Media Molecule ~80 Bubblebath Engine Dreams
Paradox Development Studio ~80 Clausewitz Engine Imperator: Rome, Stellaris, Europa Universalis series
Deck13 ~70 Fledge Lords of the Fallen, The Surge, The Surge 2
Nihon Falcom ~60 Yamaneko Engine Ys VII, Ys VIII, Ys IX
Croteam +40 Serious Engine The Talos Principle, Serious Sam series

Some observations from this list:

  • Rise of the Tomb Raider lists only 10 programmers working on Foundation engine in the credits, probably a good reference number to get an idea of the people working on the core engine.
  • Kojima Productions use Decima engine, developed by Guerrilla Games, for Death Stranding, previously they used Fox Engine for Metal Gear Solid V.
  • Media Molecule latest game/engine (Dreams) seems to have been developed by only ~15 coders, amazing!
  • Companies targeting one single platform, usually have less restrictions and can push the limits of that platform. Unfortunately, that's a luxury that most companies can not afford.
  • Asobo Studio, the company that originated this market study is not that small... but, like other companies, they seem to work in multiple titles in parallel.
  • Very nice to see that some of the engines have entries in the Wikipedia with some details and titles released, it should be a must.

Small-size Studios (Indie Studios)

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*From left to right: The Witness, No Man's Sky, X-Morph Defense

Here we have some really small studios that also choose to develop a custom engine for their games. Note that most of those engines rely on other libraries/frameworks for certain parts of the game, the common choices we find are SDL (cross-platform graphics/input), OGRE (rendering engine), MonoGame (cross-platform game framework, also relyes on SDL, SharpDX, OpenTK, OpenAL-Soft...).

One question many people could ask is, what parts of the engine are actually coded by the developers? Well, it depends, but usually coders take care of the screen-manager, entities-manager and content-manager as well as the wrappers/interfaces to the external libraries.

Second question, what parts of the engine usually rely on external libraries/middleware? It also depends on the company resources but usually audio-system, physics, rendering, networking, ui-system, terrain-system, vegetation-system and some other pieces.

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*From left to right: Factorio, Thimbleweed Park, Owlboy

On the following list (and the next one below) I added the publishing date (only +2012) and the link to Steam for all the games... there are not many games with custom engine from small studios out there and I think they deserve to be recognized and supported.

Company Employees Engine Notable Games
Runic Games ~40 OGRE-based Hob (2017), Tochlight II (2012)
Klei Entertainment 35 custom engine Invisible, Inc. (2016), Don't Starve Together (2016), Shank series
Shiro Games ~30 Heaps.io Northgard (2018), Evoland (2013), Evoland II (2015)
Hello Games ~25 No Man's Sky Engine No Man's Sky (2016)
Frictional Games ~25 HPL engine SOMA (2015), Amnesia series
DrinkBox Studios ~25 custom engine Guacamelee (2013), Guacamelee! 2 (2018), Severed (2016)
Supergiant Games ~20 MonoGame-based Hades (2019), Pyre (2017), Transistor (2014)
Wube Software ~20 Allegro/SDL-based Factorio (2019)
Chucklefish ~20 Halley Engine Wargroove (2019), Starbound (2016)
Ronimo Games ~17 RoniTech Engine (SDL) Awesomenauts (2017)
Lab Zero Games ~17 Z-Engine Indivisible (2019), Skullgirls (2013)
Introversion Software ~14 SystemIV (SDL) Prison Architect (2015)
Exor Studios ~14 OGRE-based Schmetterling The Riftbreaker (2020), X-Morph: Defense (2017)
Tribute Games ~11 MonoGame-based Flinthook (2017), Mercenary Kings (2014)
Thekla Inc. (Jonathan Blow) ~10 custom engine The Witness (2016)
Numantian Games ~10 custom engine They Are Billions (2019), Lords of Xulimia (2014)
Nysko Games Ltd. ~10 custom engine The Dwarves of Glistenveld (2019)
Passtech Games 10 OEngine Curse of the Dead Gods (2020)
Terrible Toybox (Ron Gilbert) 9 custom engine (SDL) Thimbleweed Park (2017)
Radical Fish Games 8 Impact-based (JS) CrossCode (2018)
Matt Makes Games (Matt Thorson) ~7 MonoGame-based Celeste (2018), TowerFall Ascension (2014)
Coilworks ~7 custom engine Super Cloudbuilt (2017), Cloudbuilt (2014)
Lo-fi Games (Chris Hunt) 6 OGRE-based Kenshi (2018)
D-Pad Studio 6 MonoGame-based Owlboy (2016)
BitKid, Inc. 6 MonoGame-based CHASM (2020)
Double Damage Games 5 OGRE-based Rebel Galaxy Outlaw (2019), Rebel Galaxy (2015)
Almost Human Games 4 custom engine Legend of Grimrock (2012), Legend of Grimrock 2 (2014)
Wolfire Games 4 Phoenix Engine Overgrowth (2017)
Nuke Nine 3 custom engine Vagante (2019)
Mega Crit Games 3 custom engine Slay the Spire (2017)

Some observations from this list:

  • Nicolas Cannasse, co-founder of Shiro Games, is the the developer of Haxe programming language and Heaps engine, used by Motion Twin for Dead Cells (2017).
  • Hello Games is a very small studio considering the size of No Man's Sky and that they use a custom engine. Really impressive!
  • Runic Games was dissolved in November 2017, the founders created Double Damage, now they are working on Echtra Games on Torchlight III.
  • Rodrigo Braz Monteiro, Chucklefish CTO, is the person in charge of Halley engine, actually the engine is open-source!
  • In most of those studios the people in charge of creating the game engine it's only 1-3 persons!
  • Lo-fi Games was a one-man team (Chris Hunt) for more than 6 years!
  • Some of the games in this list took +5 years of development!
  • Not many games... a couple of hits per year...

One-man custom engines

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*From left to right: Stardew Valley, ScourgeBringer, Eagle Island

Finally, the list of the heroes.

Games developed by 1-2 people with custom game engines, engines mostly coded by one person! Respect.

Creating an engine and a game from scratch to the point of publishing it is an extraordinary accomplishment, not many people in the world is ready for that. Almost all of them are 2D games, usually with very small budgets and developed along multiple years. Congratulations to the developers!

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*From left to right: Axiom Verge, Ghost 1.0, Remnants of Naezith

Company/Developer People Engine Notable Game(s)
Lizardcube (Ben Fiquet and Omar Cornut) 2 custom engine Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (2017)
Guard Crush Games (Jordi Asensio and Cyrille Lagarigue) 2 MonoGame-based Streets of Rage 4
Pocketwatch Games (Andy Schatz) 2? MonoGame-based Tooth and Tail (2017)
Justin Ma and Matthew Davis 2 custom engine FTL: Faster Than Light (2012)
Ed Key and David Kanaga 2 custom engine Proteus (2013)
Mountain Sheep 2 custom engine Hardland (2019)
Flying Oak Games (Thomas Altenburger and Florian Hurtaut) 2 MonoGame-based Neuro Voider (2016), ScourgeBringer(2020)
Marc Flury and Brian Gibson 2 custom engine Thumper (2016)
Jochum Skoglund and Niklas Myrberg 2 custom engine Heroes of Hammerwatch (2018), Hammerwatch (2013)
Villa Gorilla (Jens Andersson and Mattias Snygg) 2 custom engine Yoku's Island Express (2018)
Two Mammoths (Piotr Turecki and Marcin Turecki) 2 custom engine Archaica: The Path of Light (2017)
Bare Mettle Entertainment (Madoc Evans) 1? custom engine Exanima (2015)
Lucas Pope 1 OpenFL-based Papers, Please (2013)
Terry Cavanagh 1 custom engine Super Hexagon (2012)
Francisco Tellez 1 SDL-based Ghost 1.0 (2016), UnEpic (2014)
Grid Sage Games (Josh Ge) 1 SDL-based Cogmind (2017)
Luke Hodorowicz 1 custom engine Banished (2014)
Thomas Happ 1 (5 years) MonoGame-based Axiom Verge (2015)
James Silva 1 MonoGame-based Salt and Sanctuary (2016)
Eric Barone 1 (4 years) MonoGame-based Stardew Valley (2016)
Tolga Ay 1 SFML-based Remnant of Naezith (2018)
Nick Gregory 1 (5 years) MonoGame-based Eagle Island (2019)
bitBull Ltd. (James Closs) 1 (4 years) MonoGame-based Jetboard Joust (2020)
Benjamin Porter 1 (8 years) SFML-based MoonQuest (2020)
Randall Foster 1 (7 years) custom engine Kid Baby: Starchild (2019)
Dennis Gustafsson 1 custom engine Teardown (2020)
Christian Whitehead 1 Star Engine Sonic Mania (2017)
Positech Games (Cliff Harris) 1 custom engine Production Line (2019), Democracy 3 (2013), Gratuitous Space Battles (2015)
Frank Lucas 1 custom engine Angeldust (2019)
Zachtronics (Zach Barth) 1 custom engine MOLEK-SYNTEZ (2019), EXAPUNKS (2018), SHENZHEN I/O (2016), Opus Magnum (2017)
Lunar Ray Games (Bodie Lee) 1 custom engine Timespinner (2018)
sebagamesdev 1 custom engine Fight And Rage (2017)
Loïc Dansart 1 custom engine Melody's Escape (2016)

Some observations from this list:

  • Some of those teams are formed by 1-2 people but probably grew at some point and/or outsourced some parts of the development (art, audio...). Usually the publisher also helps with some resources (localization, marketing...).
  • Omar Cornut from Lizardcube is the main programmer for Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap engine and also the developer of Dear ImGui, a free and open-source immediate-mode gui library used by lots of AAA custom engines.
  • Ben Fiquet from Lizardcube is also the main artist for Streets of Rage 4, the custom engine of Guard Crush Games is written by Cyrille Lagarigue.
  • Marc Flury programmed Thumper game engine rejecting the OOP paradigm in favor of a procedural programming approach.
  • Christian Whitehead is the creator of Star Engine used in Sonic Mania but Headcannon (Simon Thomley) and PagodaWest Games (Jared Kasl and Tom Fry) were also involved in the development of the game.
  • Some of the games in this list took +5 years of development!
  • Not many games... a couple of hits per year...

There are some other remarkable games using custom engines that worth mentioning: Minecraft (2011), Braid (2009), Super Meat Boy (2010), Terraria (2011), Dustforce (2012), Sword and Sorcery EP (2012), FEZ (2013), Dust: An Elysian Tail (2013), Rogue Legacy (2013), Dyad (2012), SpaceChem (2013), Darkest Dungeon (2016), Scrap Mechanic (2016), Battle Brothers (2015), Renowned Explorers (2015), Yuppie Psycho (2019), Surviving Mars (2018), The End Is Nigh (2017), The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth (2017), The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (2014), BattleBlock Theater (2013), Full Metal Furies (2017), Binding of Isaac (2011), Rusted Warfare (2017).

Conclusions

I'll start saying I'm biased, I'm really passionate about videogames-making technologies and I admire custom engines and game-making tools. I also contributed to custom engines ecosystem with my grain of salt: raylib and several game-making tools. I prefer a custom engine over a licensed one, I consider that the extra amount of effort put into the product usually translates into some specific great mechanic or some amazing in-game details.

Said that, I must admit that creating a custom engine is a big endeavour and not many people/companies are ready for that. I recognize Unity (and Unreal to less extend) have really democratized videogames development, lots of small-medium size companies can use Unity today to develop games quickly, sometimes, with very low budgets... But, still, lots of big companies prefer to rely on their own custom technologies.

From my gamedev-teacher perspective, I think students should learn how engines work internally with as much detail as possible. Relying only on engines like Unity/Unreal for education to allow students develop eye-candy project in short-time is not the way to go. At the end of the day, someone has to write the engine and the tools!

NOTE: Feedback and improvements are welcome! :)

@MrFrenik

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@MrFrenik MrFrenik commented Apr 22, 2020

Great write up! Thanks for the in depth analysis and coverage.

@Rud156

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@Rud156 Rud156 commented Apr 22, 2020

Hello,

As a student studying GameDev this was a really interesting read. It is really amazing to know that so many of these games are made using Custom engines even though there are so few people in the studio. Also, thank you a lot as RayLib has helped me a lot when starting out making games.

PS. The engine used to make Celeste is available on Bitbucket (Monocle) https://bitbucket.org/MattThorson/monocle-engine

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@m-r-hunt m-r-hunt commented Apr 22, 2020

You use the word destacable a few times which doesn't seem to be an English word. Did you mean something like "notable"?

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@raysan5 raysan5 commented Apr 22, 2020

@mr-r-hunt oh! thanks for letting me know! yeah, I meant remarkable/notable. I'm reviewing it!

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@baylej baylej commented Apr 22, 2020

Factorio is no longer based on Allegro https://www.factorio.com/blog/post/fff-230

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@etienne1911 etienne1911 commented Apr 23, 2020

very insightful. I like the idea of small studio doing good games.

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@cvayer cvayer commented Apr 23, 2020

Hello ! At Ubisoft we use the Disrupt engine for the Watch Dogs series : https://www.polygon.com/2013/2/26/4031712/watch-dogs-running-on-brand-new-disrupt-engine-not-assassins-creed

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@dirtydanisreal dirtydanisreal commented Apr 23, 2020

Don't forget

Anvil Next - Assassins Creed, Rainbow Six: Siege, For Honor, Ghost Recon Wildlands and Breakpoint, The Crew

Phyre- Unraveled

Lithtech Jupiter Ex/Firebird - FEAR, Condemned 1 and 2, Shadow of Mordor and War

Jade - Prince of Persia 1-3, Beyond Good and Evil

Volition - custom engine/GeoMod - Punisher, Saints Row, Red Faction

Gamebryo- Bully, Oblivion

Lead Engine - Splinter Cell

Lumberyard- Star Citizen

Kobra- Elite Dangerous, Planet Coaster and Zoo

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@raysan5 raysan5 commented Apr 23, 2020

hey! thanks for the info! I'll review the article with some additions! 👍😄

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@QuickShift QuickShift commented Apr 23, 2020

Albeit the game is not released yet, you might want to add GDStudio's game named Diabotical to the list. They built a custom engine, called Glitch, for it.

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@itsmrpeck itsmrpeck commented Apr 23, 2020

Great article! Not sure if they're big enough for the list, but Lab Zero Games (~17 employees, notable games: Skullgirls (2012), Indivisible (2019)) uses their own custom engine known as the Z-Engine. It's nice to see that so many other companies are using their own engines!

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@rxptr rxptr commented Apr 23, 2020

I was always fascinated by Hardlands and Exanima games/engines, both done by small indie developers, yet very ambitious.

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@kaesve kaesve commented Apr 23, 2020

I know that Abbey Games of Reus, Renowned Explorers and Godhood have their own engine too

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@endel endel commented Apr 23, 2020

Shiro Games / Nicolas Cannasse also deserves huge respect!

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@PeterSikachev PeterSikachev commented Apr 23, 2020

IO Interactive - G2 - Hitman series
Eidos Montreal - Dawn Engine (modified G2) - Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

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@dbriemann dbriemann commented Apr 23, 2020

Shiro Games / Nicolas Cannasse also deserves huge respect!

Also came here to mention heaps. No idea which size Shiro Games fits in but the engine should absolutely be mentioned. Great writeup btw Ray.

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@jagenjo jagenjo commented Apr 23, 2020

Minecraft, Overgrowth, Barotrauma, Hytale and Rimworld
Also not sure if Starbase uses custom engine: https://www.frozenbyte.com/2019/05/starbase-a-new-sci-fi-mmo-game-by-frozenbyte-revealed/

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@Flamaros Flamaros commented Apr 23, 2020

There is a lot of custom engine in studios that makes only racing games like for project cars, iracing,...

As you evoke custom engine remove some gameplay restrictions as there is fewer restrictions than with a generic engine.
And creating a custom engine is easier than a generic one that why teams can be very small sometimes, but it is still a serious challenge.

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@aofer aofer commented Apr 23, 2020

I think Mario Odyssey is using UE4

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@GoldenThumbs GoldenThumbs commented Apr 23, 2020

You should look into Frictional Games and their engine HPL. It's been used for games like Penumbra, Amnesia, and Soma.

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@MahmoudFayed MahmoudFayed commented Apr 23, 2020

Very nice study
Keep up the GREAT WORK

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@zollenz zollenz commented Apr 24, 2020

These are built on custom engines:

Dyad (Shawn McGrath, 2012)
Thumper (Marc Flury & Brian Gibson, 2016)

Coincidentally they are also both awesome rhythm games.

Thanks for putting this together 👍

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@InfiniteStates InfiniteStates commented Apr 24, 2020

Great article!

Infinite State Games is a 2 man team using a custom engine to put games out on iOS, Vita, PS4 and Switch since 2008

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@john-cullen john-cullen commented Apr 24, 2020

Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord by TaleWorlds Entertainment is also written in a custom engine as far as I know.

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@ehalferty ehalferty commented Apr 24, 2020

Really cool writeup!

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@eigenbom eigenbom commented Apr 24, 2020

Very interesting, thanks for writing this up! I wrote a custom engine for MoonQuest. It's in c++ and SFML/opengl and the game was in development for around 8 years. -- Ben

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@jackbrookes jackbrookes commented Apr 24, 2020

Halo is developed with a custom engine ("Halo engine") by 343 and previously bungie. 343's (Microsoft's) new engine is called SlipStream and is in use for the next Halo game.

Bungie uses a custom engine for the Destiny franchise

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@kashfifahim kashfifahim commented Apr 24, 2020

Enjoyed this gist. I recently discovered the works of Eskil Steenberg. I think Steenberg's should be considered for the last list, super small teams, in this case, one person, with custom game engines. Cheers!

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@Kikokun Kikokun commented Apr 24, 2020

Don't forget Relic Entertainment's Essence Engine

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@marth8880 marth8880 commented Apr 24, 2020

Don't forget Monolith Productions' LithTech/Firebird Engine!

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@encelo encelo commented Apr 24, 2020

You might want to add nCine in the One-man custom engines category. 😉

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@cluoma cluoma commented Apr 24, 2020

Croteam (The Talos Principle, Serious Sam Series) also use their in-house 'Serious Engine'.

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@kaneel kaneel commented Apr 24, 2020

While Catherine used the third-party Gamebryo game engine, Persona 5 used a specially-created engine.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persona_5

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@whatisaphone whatisaphone commented Apr 24, 2020

Another one: Vigil Games developed Darksiders I and II using a custom engine called the Oblivion Engine. Apparently that engine found its way into other games too: whatisaphone/war#1

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@danielt3 danielt3 commented Apr 24, 2020

First, congratulations for your work. It is really cool, detailed and full great info!

A little fix: Omar Cornut didn't work in Streets of Rage 4. He is the main coder behind Wonder Boy but, in Streets of Rage 4, altough Ben Fiquet is the main artist, a custom engine written by Guard Crush Games[2] was used [1].

Interesting, Guard Crush Games is also a 2-man studio and Streets of Rage 4 seems to have only one programmer: Cyrille Lagarigue. Really impressive!

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streets_of_Rage_4
[2]https://twitter.com/Guard_Crush/status/1208050181062692867

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@D4id4los D4id4los commented Apr 24, 2020

One for your medium company list is Paradox Development Studio with their custom engine "Clausewitz", used in games such as Europa Universalis IV, Hearts of Iron IV, Stellaris, and Imperator: Rome. According to Wikipedia they had 80 Employees back in 2015, I don't know any more current numbers.

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@rpgwhitelock rpgwhitelock commented Apr 24, 2020

Very nice article.
A few potential additions :
Rebellion Developments use their own internally developed 'Asura' engine for the vast majority of their games.
Chucklefish's Halley Engine (Wargroove and upcoming Witchbrook) https://github.com/amzeratul/halley
Mode 7 Games used a modified version of Torque3D for the Frozen Synapse/Cortex series of games.

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@xStrom xStrom commented Apr 24, 2020

Minecraft deserves an honorable mention, especially because it achieved success with its custom engine way before the Microsoft era.

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@nedevel nedevel commented Apr 24, 2020

Undertale & Deltarune deserve a mention (RPG Maker Game Maker, thanks Tygrak)

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@ysingh ysingh commented Apr 24, 2020

Shout out @cmuratori for his handmade hero series, where he makes a custom game engine from scratch and streams the whole process.

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@nelsonjchen nelsonjchen commented Apr 24, 2020

Konami's Fox Engine was also famously used in Metal Gear Solid V. Even the engine's name is a bit inspired by some Metal Gear lore. After Kojima's departure/firing/layoff/unamicable split, there was a lot of hype/speculation what Kojima was going to do now that the Fox engine was off-limit hence the newsworthy mention of Kojima Productions using Guerrilla Games's Decima engine. Kojima Productions even went so far as to move their production offices to Guerrilla Games's building which certainly makes tech support on using Decima a lot easier.

All this to say, Fox Engine probably much more well known to have been used in MGS V than in Konami's football/soccer game series.

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@joskuijpers joskuijpers commented Apr 24, 2020

Seems you are missing Mojang/Minecraft with their custom engine. And their second custom engine: Bedrock

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@stvrbbns stvrbbns commented Apr 24, 2020

Guild Software uses their NAOS Engine for Vendetta Online
http://www.guildsoftware.com/products.html

It might be worth mentioning more about when using a custom engine is a good or a bad idea.

The above list appears to be mostly successes. Might information on failures might also be relevant and helpful?
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/joshparnell/limit-theory-an-infinite-procedural-space-game/posts

"I think students must learn how engines work internally with as much detail as possible."
Do the 3D modelling and texture artists benefit from learning how game engines work internally in detail?

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@Dinjoralo Dinjoralo commented Apr 24, 2020

I think Croteam deserves a mention, with their self-built Serious Engine.

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@HemersonTacon HemersonTacon commented Apr 24, 2020

Great article! I think that VVVVVV from that same guy Terry Cavanagh that you already mentioned deserves a mention too! Also, its source code was open on its 10th anniversary sometime ago, take a look -> https://github.com/TerryCavanagh/VVVVVV

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@naezith naezith commented Apr 24, 2020

Thank you for mentioning Remnants of Naezith, I appreciate it!

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@Tygrak Tygrak commented Apr 24, 2020

Undertale & Deltarune deserve a mention (RPG Maker)

I think it's gamemaker actually

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@sawickiap sawickiap commented Apr 24, 2020

That's a great article!

Companies missing that have their own engine:

  • Techland, developer of Dying Light and other games
  • 11 bit studios, developer of Frostpunk and other games

You could mention in the conclusion that for many passionate developers who focus on low-level C++ writing their own engine is just fun, much more interesting than making actual game in an existing engine.

You could also add that many companies use custom engines because having them for many years it's just easier for them to continue this way, while nowadays more and more studios switch to UE4 and Unity, and not many start a new engine, as it becomes harder and requires more work now than years ago.

I also found a typo: "tecnology".

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@raysan5 raysan5 commented Apr 24, 2020

Wow! Thank you everyone for your comments! I didn't expect so many people reading it!

I got a lot of feedback and an additional list of +50 companies/small-studios/solo-devs with published games using custom engines! I'll update the article with that information asap! 😄

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@farra farra commented Apr 24, 2020

You could Riot Games with +2000 employees and a custom, proprietary engine for League of Legends. However, the other games they're releasing now, Legends of Runeterra and Valorant, are developed in Unity and Unreal respectively.

Also, this post is getting a lot of commentary and activity on Hacker News.

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@leetrout leetrout commented Apr 25, 2020

I'd nominate Grinding Gear Games (~100 people I think) and their custom engine for Path of Exile. Chris Wilson talks about it in his GDC talk from 2019 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmuy9fyNUjY

About halfway through he talks about how the levels are generated from a base plan of laying out a river and two bridges but the actual level is created dynamically. It's really neat.

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@leoncvlt leoncvlt commented Apr 25, 2020

Nintendo also used UE4 for Yoshi's Crafted World on the Switch. Digital Foundry did a technical postmortem on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w95yC7wfdUA

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@Beeblerox Beeblerox commented Apr 25, 2020

Shiro Games / Nicolas Cannasse also deserves huge respect!

Also came here to mention heaps. No idea which size Shiro Games fits in but the engine should absolutely be mentioned. Great writeup btw Ray.

About page says that there are 32 people working in the Shiro Games, and they have opened positions, so this number (hopefully) will grow. So they are a small-sized indie studio, i guess
Engine they are using is called Heaps.io. You can read more about tech they use here.

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@Beeblerox Beeblerox commented Apr 25, 2020

Btw, the latest game from Terry Cavanagh Dicey Dungeons is built with OpenFL and his library called haxegon (and other open source libraries)

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@arqtiq arqtiq commented Apr 25, 2020

Don't forget

Anvil Next - Assassins Creed, Rainbow Six: Siege, For Honor, Ghost Recon Wildlands and Breakpoint, The Crew

For Ghost Recon, Anvil Next has branched to become Silex (Wildlands & Breakpoint)

Also, The Crew has it's own engine, based on Dunia

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@JRC-BitBull JRC-BitBull commented Apr 25, 2020

This is the developer of Jetboard Joust here and I'd just like to say thank you very much for the tip of that hat to my game!

The engine for Jetboard Joust has been in development since the late 1990s. It's an evolution of code originally written for Java web apps that was then ported to J2ME/JavaME for 'feature' phones. I honed it over the course of many, many JavaME games from 2000 to 2013 (ish). When the JavaME market unfortunately dried up I ported the engine to Xamarin/MonoGame, making a number of significant additions (particularly the particle system). Jetboard Joust has been in development for over four years and I appreciate all the support I can get!

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@raysan5 raysan5 commented Apr 25, 2020

Hi James (@JRC-BitBull)! Congratulations for Jetboard Joust! I've been following your game for some time, looks great! Thank you very much for the development details! 😄

NOTE: Just updated the tables with new companies and engines! But still some small-studios/solo-devs on my list for a new update...

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@raysan5 raysan5 commented Apr 26, 2020

Just did a last update with some new additions, it's really costly to search for employees/engine information, specially for small companies and solo-devs. I'll leave it here.

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@SuperSandro2000 SuperSandro2000 commented Apr 27, 2020

I just wanted to say that I love Factorio. I play it since 0.9.2 or so and bought it over 6 years ago. With Minecraft and League of Legends I probably spend over 10 000 hours in those 3 games.

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@repi repi commented Apr 27, 2020

Nice list!

There is no version number for Frostbite, so it is just "Frostbite" not "Frostbite 3".

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@hasahmed hasahmed commented Apr 27, 2020

Thanks for the article. Also very interested in game development technology.

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@msinilo msinilo commented Apr 28, 2020

Digital Extremes - Evolution Engine (used for Dark Sector, Darkness 2, Star Trek and Warframe)

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@steel3d steel3d commented Apr 28, 2020

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@MothDoctor MothDoctor commented Apr 28, 2020

Thanks for making this list! :)

Also, Carrion would be a nice addition to the list
https://www.reddit.com/r/linux_gaming/comments/81fcyg/carrion_a_reverse_horror_game_from_the_developers/


Now, I'm not entirely sure if this Gist is a proper place for these adjustments. Just leaving for your consideration :)

I guess it would be worth to mention which studios using in-house tech in past... ditched it and switched to 3rd party engine.
And if a given company used "ready" tech for specific games, i.e. Jedi Fallen Order built on UE4, Gwent developed with Unity.
It would give people a better insight into processes happening in the industry.

Minor comment on your note
"From my gamedev-teacher perspective, I think students must learn how engines work internally with as much detail as possible. Relying only on engines like Unity/Unreal for education to allow students develop eye-candy project in short-time is not the way to go. At the end of the day, someone has to write the engine and the tools!"

TL;DR Needs of programmer and non-programmer are similar, but ways of satisfying these needs... often entirely "opposite". Way of teaching could differ greatly ;)

Yes, the programmers would write the engine and they shouldn't blindly focus on popular engines only. And they would definitely use a general knowledge on engine tech even if working with Unity/Unreal :)

Although beginner artists would be only slow down by using an exotic toolset that would make him inexperienced with tools, probably, used by most of the studios already. It's essential for a non-programmer to have a perspective, know industry tools - custom engines tend to be great at one or a few specific things, but tools are often terrible (which is a natural cost of using in-house tech) and not too much to learn from. Programmers enjoy writing their own tech, other developers aren't necessarily happy about using it, working with scarce tools.

Specific tools or approaches of proprietary tech - that all that everyone should keep an eye during the entire career. Not exactly mandatory for
beginner non-programmer who needs to learn a lot of other things than just technology.

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@msinilo msinilo commented Apr 28, 2020

You forgot Respawn ;) Titanfall + Apex https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apex_Legends, and Jedi Fallen Order https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars_Jedi:_Fallen_Order

Titanfall and Apex are done with Source and Star Wars is Unreal.

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@Matthewspear Matthewspear commented Apr 28, 2020

Enjoying digging through these links!

From my gamedev-teacher perspective, I think students must learn how engines work internally with as much detail as possible.

@raysan5 do you have any go to recommendations or resources for learning more about how engines work?

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@linkchen1982 linkchen1982 commented Apr 30, 2020

Nintendo also used UE4 for Yoshi's Crafted World on the Switch. Digital Foundry did a technical postmortem on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w95yC7wfdUA

In this case, Nintendo was the publisher. The main development was done by Good-Feel. I don't know how much Nintendo involved in.

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@raysan5 raysan5 commented Apr 30, 2020

@Matthewspear Actually, engines is a VERY broad topic with lots of fields to dig in, a good start could be the book Game Engines Architecture by Jason Gregory to get a great overall view.

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@Carandiru0 Carandiru0 commented Apr 30, 2020

Boy I don't feel so hopeless and crazy now for writing a custom engine! thank you! lol.

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@joskuijpers joskuijpers commented Apr 30, 2020

Farming Simulator has also its own engine, simply named GIANTS Engine.

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@justinian justinian commented May 1, 2020

Neat write up!

Some Runic/etc notes: Runic's size was closer to 40. I was number 35, if I remember right. The original Torchlight was based on the same codebase as Torchlight 2 and Hob as well the Rebel Galaxy games from Double Damage (at least to start, I believe Travis changed that code a lot.) The two other studios to come out of Runic, Echtra and Monster Squad, both use Unreal.

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@Razzeee Razzeee commented May 3, 2020

Some info about the uncharted/last of us engine/tooling https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSmqbnhHp1c

You keep mentioning Unity and UE. I'm kinda curious if we will see some adoption of Godot in the next years.

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@radu-danciu radu-danciu commented May 4, 2020

Nice write-up. Two things I've pondered for a while are "what constitutes the core engine?" and "what quantity of change does it take for an engine become a different engine?".

Essentially, to answer 'how many people does it take to build an engine?' you need at least an answer to the first. More interestingly, some things that are core to one engine might not be explicitly handled in another. For example, containers, memory management and threading are core to typical AAA engines and greatly influence everything else on top in terms of technical design and direction. But for smaller games, naive use of system libraries can be sufficient. Entity systems (referencing, dependencies, scene management, ...), rendering and the overall frame graph and simulation pacing along with serialization are probably the only real 'core'. Higher up, things working in platform-, system-, entity- and component-space can be thought of as products (and indeed are - UI, physics simulations, animation and AI, and more can be served by engine-agnostic products). With that in mind, it makes sense that some engines are put together (or at least sufficiently so that you can support some gameplay) in a few months by a couple of developers.

So then, the second question has some interesting ripple here. Any substantial (feature-level) change to the core of the engine should in effect make it a different engine. For example, the changes Naughty Dog made to threading in their engine (see https://www.gdcvault.com/play/1022186/Parallelizing-the-Naughty-Dog-Engine) to adapt it to a new console generation. Of course, if a developer chooses to attach a different label on an engine fork, the core may essentially be the same but some top layers may differ (as was the case with Glacier 2 and Dawn at the time the respective games shipped; they diverged further after ioi left SqE). Or, a developer may put the same label on several different cores (Anvil/Scimitar vs Anvil/Blacksmith; Silex also falls into that bucket, with even fewer differences) due to how they historically branched (forked, really) from the same root.

A final note is that collaboration on engines is an interesting beast. Some development houses may, at points in time, have a dedicated engine team that serves to drive the mainline direction for technology, and serves some requests from projects using it. This sort of team can range into the high-tens of people. Other development houses may elect to not actually have a dedicated engine team and allow project teams to branch or fork off each other, with only minimal stewardship on technical direction. But to wrap up my team size hypothesis, based on what I've seen, commercial engines show an upper bound on headcount, as they deal with much more complexity involved in productizing their tech to be sold/licensed. If you're homebrewing something, you can probably make due with less than a third of that headcount, or even as little as 1-2 people as the technology only needs to scale to your usecase.

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@Saiv46 Saiv46 commented May 5, 2020

Did someone already mentioned that Ubi's Disrupt engine is based on Dunia?

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@JGL JGL commented May 20, 2020

According to this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyMsF31NdNc on Breath of the Wild, Nintendo for the first time used an external engine, Unreal.

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@ryanpcmcquen ryanpcmcquen commented May 28, 2020

Limbo should be added to this list, it uses a custom engine.

Also, what is the distinction between SDL-based and custom engine? SDL isn't really a basis for an engine but more of a way to make an engine cross platform ... and the distinction seems inconsistent. Proteus, for example, uses SDL, but is listed as a 'custom engine'.

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@MrFrenik MrFrenik commented May 29, 2020

Limbo should be added to this list, it uses a custom engine.

Also, what is the distinction between SDL-based and custom engine? SDL isn't really a basis for an engine but more of a way to make an engine cross platform ... and the distinction seems inconsistent. Proteus, for example, uses SDL, but is listed as a 'custom engine'.

SDL is just for platform layer abstraction. It does handle some graphics related operations, but really anything past simple textured quads on a screen, you'd need to implement a custom graphics backend.

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@notnullnotvoid notnullnotvoid commented Jun 27, 2020

@JGL what's your timestamp for that claim? I've watched that presentation before, and I'm pretty sure the only middleware they talk about is Havok. Also, at about 24 minutes they show screenshots from a bunch of internal tools, none of which look like Unreal.

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@JGL JGL commented Jun 27, 2020

@notnullnotvoid You are correct! I mistakenly combined the GDC video and the article below:

Nintendo is using Unreal Engine 4, and Miyamoto says they have it ‘mastered’

You are correct about BOTW using Havok according to this Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_games_using_Havok. Thanks for the correction!

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@raysan5 raysan5 commented Jun 27, 2020

@JGL @notnullnotvoid Actually, I forgot to comment it back on May, I also saw the video and I was investigating in the net for a couple of hours trying to find the Unreal reference... :P

In any case, it seems lots of Japanese companies are moving to Unreal lately and, in general, Unreal Engine is taking a big piece of the AAA market. On latest PS5 reveal show, 9 out of 21 games showcased were made with Unreal!

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@raysan5 raysan5 commented Aug 4, 2020

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@P4prik4 P4prik4 commented Aug 8, 2020

other games:
https://kitsune-one.itch.io/kitsunetsuki
using panda 3d

https://kircode.com/ 's yume engine and phantom path game

i also like armory and active game's offroad mania https://store.steampowered.com/newshub/app/1222040/view/3250981437695230117

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@redorav redorav commented Aug 19, 2020

You use the word destacable a few times which doesn't seem to be an English word. Did you mean something like "notable"?

As soon as I saw this I thought: this guy must be Spanish! Excellent write-up, really enjoyed it. I too enjoy custom engines a lot more than commercial ones

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