What's in a Game: The Color of Game Engines

Game engines have a unique, substantial, and inexorable influence on the games made with them. I call this influence “color,” and it’s a form of distortion. Not withstanding myriad other factors, distortion is the reason why games with identically designed starting points, but built in different engines, would turn out wildly different from each other.

The idea of color was first brought to my attention upon realizing how easy it was for me, in general, to pick Unity games from a lineup. Telltale signs of Unity include frivolous 3D graphics, violent shader abuse, shit gameplay, and of course, the dead giveaway, UnityGUI. Even barring the more obvious colorations afforded by an engine’s official featureset, like graphical capabilities or overreaching platform support, distortion also permeates the products of an engine in less conspicuous ways.

In practice, games are designed more or less on the fly by the people who code them. Even in a shop with a clear vision of a project and design documents galore, the gameplay programmers are ultimately responsible for developing designs on paper into tangible mechanics. As a result, the technical environment and headspace furnished by the engine are the prime grounds where design decisions are truly forged. Ergo, the engine plays an integral role in the creative process, and so colors a game’s design considerably.

I'm going to break down Super Murderwolf, our latest game, to highlight the ways, some remote and some direct, in which my choice of game engine, Flambe, influenced the final product.

Everything is moving on the title screen before sliding straight into the gameplay.
The player appears to move, but is vertically stationary.

Most engines, like Flambe, aim to be transparent, while some, like Twine, OpenBOR, and M.U.G.E.N., are defined by their color. Either way, the engine will actively exert itself on the decision making of those involved in developing with it, thereby modifying characteristics of the game to fit the engine. To get slightly metaphysical, by the butterfly effect even the slightest of these modifications can have profound consequences, for better or for worse.

So, would a game in any other engine smell just as sweet? I think not.

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