How it works
Game engines work under the hood, carrying out the main functions needed to bring a game’s world to life. Major components include a rendering engine to create the visual environment, a physics engine to calculate how the characters and the parts of the environment will interact with one another, and the main game program, which carries out the logic of the game itself.
The a-ha moment
In the early days of video games, consoles and computers had very limited memory and computing power, so game developers had to craft each game from beginning to end to maximize performance. As machines became more powerful, the software didn’t need to be so efficient, and that allowed developers to recycle components into other games. First-person shooter games like “Doom” (1993) and “Unreal” (1998) were so impressive for their time that other developers were keen to repurpose the underlying software.
What it means for everyday life
Modern game engines make it easier to build a game from scratch, in some cases with minimal coding skills and with normal consumer-grade computers. For industry heavy-hitters, they enable them to build expansive blockbusters worth billions with smaller development teams. Two of the most popular are the Unity engine, which emphasizes ease-of-use in order to be used as widely as possible, and the Unreal engine, which powers the mega-hit “Fortnite.” Many engines are free, either open-sourced or have a “freemium” model, and widely available for download.
How it might change the world
Not only will game engines help bring more games to market, they’re not even just for games anymore. Hollywood directors are using them to spin backdrops from pure imagination for TV shows like The Mandalorian and films like The Lion King. Architecture firms use them to show clients more vividly what a proposed project will look and feel like. And as the metaverse grows, game engines will be right there with it, adding lifelike details and realistic physics to the virtual world. In the years to come, our digital environment will become ever more immersive, more engaging, and realer than real — and to a large extent it will be game engines that we’ll have to thank for it.