Doom to Dunia: A Visual History of 3D Game Engines


Doom might arguably be the most memorable (or at least the most popular) PC game of all time, and with good reason. Prior to Doom 's release, programmers found themselves in the stone age of game development. For the most part, building a game meant starting from scratch and compiling all new code, but like the invention of the wheel, the advent of the game engine forever changed the PC gaming landscape.

Now, we know what you're thinking, and we're well aware that game engines existed prior to Doom 's release in 1993; we're even going to cover some. But it was id Software's now legendary first-person shooter that pushed reusable 3D game engines as a viable programming model, and videogame development has never been the same since then.

On the following pages, we look back at all the major PC game engines and what made each one special. As a prerequisite, be sure to check out our history of 3D graphics , which covers videocards from the Voodoo to the GeForce and everything in between. Once you've digested these two features, you're guaranteed to have a new-found respect for gaming on the PC!

Space Rogue / Ultima Underworld

What would eventually morph into the Ultima Underworld engine started off several years prior as the Space Rogue engine, named after the sci-fi game with the same name released in 1989. Naming a game's engine after the game itself is a practice that, to some extent, lives on today.

After releasing Space Rogue , Origin Systems began work on Ultima Underworld and its accompanying engine. After a bit of work, an algorithm was developed that allowed for texture mapping, which was applied to walls, floors, and ceilings. The development team would add varying height throughout the map for a 3D effect, as well as inclined surfaces.

NPCs consisted of two-dimensional sprites, but objects were rendered in 3D. This, along with the use of physics to create movement, bogged the engine down. This led to Ultima Underworld running slow even on higher-end 486DX systems at the time, though system requirements called for a 386-based PC.

Date Released: 1990
Notable Games: Space Rogue, Ultima Underworld:The Stygian Abyss

Doom / id Tech 1

Id Software's Doom engine wasn't actually a true 3D engine at all, but a very well conceived two dimensional sector-based engine with 2D sprites representing objects, characters, and anything not tied down to the map. Because of this 2D limitation, rooms could not be stacked on top of one another, but this also allowed for faster rendering on the less powerful hardware of the time. All that was needed to run Doom was a 386 level PC (in low-detail mode) with a standard VGA videocard capable of rendering texture-mapped environments.

Despite the underlying 2D nature, Doom was, and still is, considered a 3D title. Id created the illusion of 3D with height differences added separately to the environment, and later titles built around the Doom engine would even implement the ability to look up and down, albeit with a distorted view.

Date Released: 1993
Notable Games: Chex Quest 1+2, Doom, Doom II, HacX, Heretic, HeXen, Strife


Every Comanche game ever made was constructed with some form of NovaLogic's proprietary Voxel Space engine, while several other games implemented voxels for specific parts, like rendering vehicles or in-game items.

A combination of the worlds volumetric and pixel , a voxel is a way to represent volumetric objects as three dimensional bitmaps rather than vectors. Think of a stack of legos with each piece representing a voxel, and you get an idea of how the Voxel Space engine rendered terrain. Only these were really 2D bricks with varying height. By rendering terrain this way, graphics were more smoothly contoured and detailed than other flight simulations using vector graphics, along with offering smoother gameplay.

Date Released: 1992
Notable Games: Blade Runner (characters and artifacts), Comanche series, Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun and Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 (most vehicles), Delta Force series, Master of Orion III (space battles and solar systems)


Made famous as the engine upon which Duke Nukem 3D was constructed, Build shared a similar trait with the Doom engine in that both rendered worlds on a 2D plane with sprites populating the map. The Build engine broke worlds into individual sectors arranged in a grid, and the ceiling and floors in each sector could be built to a different height. Coupled with the ability to look up and down with the mouse from the get-go, this presented the illusion of 3D.

But that wasn't the only 3D trick up Build's sleeve. By applying special tags to walls or a spot on the floor in a sector, developers could make it so that when a gamer walked into or over the designated spot, he would be teleported to a different sector. One way in which this was used was for creating holes in the ground that a player would appear to fall through, but really would be teleporting to a different sector on the 2D map.

To get the best out of the Build engine, gamers needed a Pentium class PC and an SVGA videocard, although early Build games also ran on 486-based machines.

Date Released: Late 1993
Notable Games: Blood, Duke Nukem 3D, Extreme Paintbrawl, PowerSlave, Redneck Deer Huntin', Redneck Rampage, Redneck Rampage Rides Again, Shadow Warrior, William Shatner's TekWar, Witchaven, Witchaven II


Up until its release, Stonekeep was considered vaporware due to its long production schedule that stretched a nine-month stint into a five-year project. Not entirely by accident, the Stonekeep engine kept being revised as hardware continued to advance. At the beginning, the game strove to be lean enough to run on a 286-class machine using only floppy disks, but would ultimately end up requiring a 386-based PC with a CD drive.

The Stonekeep engine made use of motion-captured monsters, which at the beginning only consisted of models from the waist up. After all, if you're standing face to face with your foe, you won't be looking down. This was later changed when Peter Oliphant, lead programmer at the time, wanted players to have the ability to back up during a fight, which would expose a foe's lower body.

Player movement using the evolving Stonekeep engine consisted of moving from grid to grid, or more specifically, from edges of grids. The problem with this was that when a player turned around, he would be moved to the other side of the grid, creating symmetry problems that needed to be fixed.

Date Released: 1990-1995
Notable Games: Stonekeep


One of the first 3D engines ever made, Bethseda's XnGine was also a bit buggy early on. The DOS-based engine ran into stability issues on Windows 95 systems, and clipping issues caused gamers to get stuck on 3D polygonal objects in games like Battlespire . Other engines avoided this problem by still using 2D sprites for in-game objects.

XnGine would later make use of high-resolution graphics and be compatible with 3dfx videocards. It would also make possible huge game worlds, such as was seen in Daggerfall .

Date Released: 1995
Notable Games: Battlespire, Daggerfall, Redguard, NIRA: Intense Import Drage Racing, Terminator: Future Shock and Terminator: SkyNET, X-Car


The Jedi engine didn't go on to provide the basis for a large number of titles, but for the games it did power -- Star Wars: Dark Forces and Outlaws -- it proved highly successful in creating a 3D-like environment. Built from the ground up (some have accused LucasArts of reverse-engineering the Doom engine, but these claims were never founded), the Jedi engine allowed for areas, or sectors, to be stacked.

Not everything was 3D, however. While the developers created objects as 3D models, they would then be rendered into bitmaps from different angles, usually in 45-degree intervals. The Jedi engine could support up to 32 angles for each object, and as you approach an object or enemy character, they would be rescaled as you got closer or farther away.

Advanced for its time, the Jedi engine also helped make popular the ability to jump and crouch, and look up and down, feats made even more impressive considering this was LucasArts first attempt at an FPS ( Dark Forces ).

Date Released: 1995
Games: Star Wars: Dark Forces, Outlaws


Id Software's first truly 3D game engine, the development team went to great pains to ensure the Quake engine ran smoothly without a ton of processing power. One way they did this was by introducing a new way to render maps that purged certain areas from processing that the player wouldn't be able to see. Objects, or brushes as they were called, made up the border of the map and created an enclosed space. The map would then be run through a rendering preprocessor, which would identify empty space inside and outside of the border. It would then discard the back portions of the border. This highly effective technique reduced the amount of polygons usually by half and sometimes by much more.

To further reduce demand put on the CPU, the Quake engine also took advantage of Z-buffering, which put simply is a method for determining which parts of the map are visible and only rendering those sections.

Quake also included 3D light sources, which were added with a second pass of the preprocessor rather than on-the-fly by the CPU, and it also supported 3D hardware acceleration. John Carmack would later release a native port of Quake called VQuake, or Vérité-accelerated Quake, designed to take advantage of the Vérité 1000 graphics chip's hardware features, including anti-aliasing. OpenGL support would also be added, giving Voodoo and PowerVR owners justification for their discrete graphics purchase.

Date Released: 1996
Notable Games: CIA Operative: Solo Missions, HeXen II, Laser Arena, Quake, Silver Wings, Urban Mercenary


The Renderware game engine claims a ton of titles under its belt -- over 200 in all -- most of which are for the PlayStation 2 console, but still over two dozen on the PC platform. It's also been used on the GameCube, Wii, Xbox and Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PSP, making it very much a multiplatform game engine.

Originally developed in 1998 as primarily a PC-based middleware solution, Renderware, like most of the engines up to this point, largely preceded the GPU, and this may have led to the engine's eventual downfall as a leading API. In an interview with Gamasutra, William "Bing" Gordon, then CCO for Electronic Arts, the publisher who purchased Renderware producer Criterion in 2004, lamented that "Renderware didn't get the next-gen parts that we needed. We actually underestimated Epic early on. They told us, 'We're going to do this, this, and this,' and we thought, 'Eh, it's going to be kind of hard.' We also underestimated our team, then we looked up three months, six months, and nine months later and said, 'Whoops, we underestimated Epic.'"

Before Epic's Unreal engine began to overshadow Renderware, Renderware proved popular for its ability to allow developers to manipulate art and game processes in real time. A developer could, for example, change the color of a character's clothing without altering the underlying code and rendering the scene all over again. This also worked for rudimentary physics, like jumping and moving. If movement looked 'off,' a developer could go in and alter the physics and see the changes in real-time.

Date Released: 1996
Notable Games: Airport Tycoon, Apache Air Assault, Bratz: Rock Angelz, Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon, Burnout Paradise, Chinese Paladin 4, Cold Fear, Commandos: Strike Force, Dream of Mirror Online, Evolution GT, Frank Herbert's Dune, G-Nome, kill.switch, Madagascar, Manhunt, Red Jets, Startdon 3, Super-Bikes Riding Challenge, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, 4, and Underground, Trickstyle

Quake II / id Tech 2

Whereas the original Quake game offered hardware graphics acceleration, Quake II offered native OpenGL support right from the get-go. Other features of the Quake II engine, now known as id Tech 2, included colored lighting effects, and a new game model whereby game code was written in C and loaded from a DLL (Dynamic Link Library) rather than the original QuakeC scripting language. In layman's terms, this allowed for both software and OpenGL renders rather than one or the other, so if you didn't own a Voodoo videocard, you weren't necessarily out of luck.

Quake II also became known for its moddability. Because DLLs were also used for the game logic, id could release the source code into the modding community (and it did just that in 2001) while still keeping the rest of the engine proprietary. The engine was also incredibly robust, and savvy developers were able to use it to power full-fledged role-playing games (like Anachronox) and add features like dismemberment (a la Soldier of Fortune).

Ready for a fun fact? The infamous abomination known as Daikatana employed the Quake II engine.

Date Released: 1997
Notable Games: Anachronox, CodeRED: Alien Arena, Daikatana, Heretic II, Kingpin: Life of Crime, SiN, Soldier of Fortune, UFO: Alien Invasion, Warsow

Cyan Plasma

Far away from Silicon Valley, Plasma's birthplace originates in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, from a company called Headspin. The Headspin team -- all two of them -- had taken the money they earned by licensing a 2D engine to electronic book publishers and used it to fund development of a 3D engine. Not long afterward, Headspin signed a deal to license Plasma to Cyan, which gave the team the resources it needed to expand and get its game engine off the ground.

The first version of Plasma boasted support for DirectX 7.0, and as one of the pioneering developers put it, "You wouldn't have wanted to try to make a flight sim with Plasma, but you could make any game that involved walking a character around in a world collecting things and triggering events."

Even early versions of Plasma supported an infinite number of texture passes with blending, portals, reflections, Max particle systems, and Max animations. Later revisions would add a number of features, such as bindings to the Havok physics engine (later replaced with PhysX support), multiplayer networking support, Bloom HDR lighting, and support for DirectX 9 in its most recent version.

Plasma was perhaps best known for driving realMyst (originally it was to be called Myst 3D), though it also drove a number of other Myst titles.

Date Released: 1998
Notable Games: Hex Isle, Myst V: End of Ages, realMyst, Uru Live, Uru: Ages Beyond Myst


Short for Goldsource, this tweaked Quake engine helped solidify the PC's dominance over consoles as a powerful gaming platform, at least for its time period (the PC vs console debate gets a little more interesting with today's tech). GoldSrc brought support for both OpenGL and Direct3D, and was the engine that powered big name titles like Half-Life , Team Frotress Classic , Day of Defeat , and Counter Strike . Needless to say, Goldsrc helped promote 3D videocards with its API support and growing list of gaming hits.

While GoldSrc shares its roots with the Quake engine, one developer who worked on Half-Life claimed that some 70 percent of the engine code was rewritten. In addition to adding Direct3D support, Valve also added a skeletal framework.

Date Released: 1998
Notable Games: Day of Defeat, Deakthmatch Classic, Counter Strike, Counter Strike: Condition Zero, Gunman Chronicles, James Bond 007, Half Life, Half Life: Blue Shift, half Life: Opposing Force, Richochet


Unreal may have started off as strictly a first-person shooter game engine, but it would also become the basis for a number of RPG titles, the biggest of which might be Mass Effect . But of course it was most known for its use in Unreal and Unreal Tournament .

The Unreal engine was the main competitor to id Software's Quake II / id Tech 2 engine, and like Quake II, Unreal became a popular engine in the modding community. In addition to having its own scripting language (UnrealScript) bundled with the game, Epic also provided a map editor and modification program called UnrealEd.

Both software and hardware rendering were present in the Unreal engine, as well as collision detection, colored lighting, and a rudimentary version of texture filtering. It also drew heavily from AMD's 3DNow! and Intel's MMX and SSE instruction sets. But to take full advantage of the Unreal engine and its heavy reliance on the Glide API, games needed a high level 3dfx videocard, which at the time was a Voodoo 5.

Date Released: 1998
Notable Games: Deus Ex, Harry Potter, Rune, Start Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Fallen, Unreal, Unreal Tournament, X-COM: Enforcer


What started off as a joint collaboration between Monolith and Microsoft, the Lithtech engine, at one time called DirectEngine, was one part software renderer and one part DirectX renderer. This didn't last long, however, as Monolith parted ways with Microsoft and bought back the rights to its engine, renaming it Lithtech.

Early on, Lithtech could best be described as the poor man's game engine. While reviewing Atlantis: The Lost Empire in the August 2001 issue of Maximum PC, we noted that "The first clue that you're in for a slapdash experience comes from the Lithtech logo on the box. With the notable exception of No One Lives Forever , Lithtech is the engine of choice for cheap, quick games. It says to the customer, 'This game wasn't worth the effort of paying for Quake or Unreal."

We also noted that in the right hads, "Lithtech can be a competent, if not great, engine." Though development would continue on Lithtech over the years, NOLF would remain the high point of the engine's life up until it was overhauled and again renamed, this time to Jupiter Extended, or Jupiter EX. Technically the fourth version of Lithtech, Jupiter EX supports DirectX 9, a new lighting model, Havok physics, and new content creation tools, and was used in both F.E.A.R. and F.E.A.R. 2.

Fun Fact: Atlantis: The Lost Empire received a 1 verdict in our August, 2001 issue.

Date Released: 1998
Notable Games: Aliens vs Predator 2, Blood II: The Chosen, F.E.A.R., F.E.A.R. 2, The Matrix Online, Might and Magix IX, No One Lives Forever, Tron 2.0


A popular voxel engine, Outcast eschewed hardware acceleration in favor of an all software-based model. This meant that gamers didn't need to invest in a 3D videocard to play games based on the Outcast engine, including Outcast itself, making it better suited for adventure and puzzle games. This also meant gamers would need a fast processor, which, at the time, included Pentium III CPUs chugging along at 500MHz or faster.

Because Outcast used a voxel-based engine, it was adept at rendering scenery from greater distances than a polygon-based engine. But Outcast also included a few other tricks up its sleeve, such as bloom and lens flares, bump mapping, anti-aliasing, dynamic shadowing, an advanced particle system, skeletal animation, and suport for both first and third person perspectives.

Date Released: 1999
Notable Games: Outcast

Quake III / id Tech 3

Like AMD versus Intel and Nvidia versus ATI, the game engine wars being fought a decade ago largely consisted of Quake III (now known as id Tech 3) versus Unreal.

As the name implies, Quake III took its cue from Quake II, but it was much more than just a refinement of id Software's previous game engine. The newer engine marked a departure from skeletal animation and instead made use of per-vertex animation. Without diving into the technical details of both, the switch paved the way for smoother animation.

Quake III also put a heavier emphasis on shadows, as well as introduced shaders, curved surfaces, 32-bit color, and advanced (for its time) networking capabilities. All these effects required a 3D videocard with full OpenGL support and at least 300MHz of computing power, whether it be an Intel Pentium II or AMD K6-2 or Athlon series.

Date Released: 1999
Notable Games: American McGee's Alice, Call of Duty, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix, Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, Quake III Arena, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory


These days we've come to expect a certain level of destructible environments, but for many gamers, the first memory of wreaking havoc on virtual surroundings came from playing Red Faction , well before the recent push towards realistic in-game physics. John Slagel, Red Faction's lead programmer, developed the Geodmod engine, which stands for Geometry Modification.

As the name implies, the GeoMod engine changes the geometry of the world in response to what's going on. GeoMod does this through a complete real-time subtractive boolean from the world's geometry. As Red Faction's lead designer Alan Lawrence explained to Gamespot, "When a rocket hits a wall, we take this shape and basically subtract that shape from the world. So we boolean with that 'bit' -- we call them GeoMod bits -- and that takes a chunk out of the world."

Date Released: 2001
Notable Games: Red Faction, Red Faction II


A fully 3D graphics engine, Torque was first created to power the first person shooter Tribes 2 . One of the highlights of the Torque engine was that it featured an in-game terrain engine capable of manipulating levels of details on the fly so that fewer polygons would need to be rendered.

Torque also became known for its built-in world editor complete with drag-and-drop GUI creation. Combined with flexible multi-player network code, Torque was a fairly robust game engine despite lacking a laundry list of titles.

Date Released: 2001
Notable Games: Penny Arcade Adventures, Tribes 2, Wildlife Tycoon


Several years in the making, one of Croteam's main goals in developing the Serious engine was to allow for large spaces and large numbers of on-screen characters at any given time. By doing so, Serious Sam became an adrenaline pumped arcade style first-person shooter with near non-stop action.

The Serious engine came as two parts: Serious Editor and Serious Modeler. Game models consisted of 3D files importanted from standard 3D object editors like Lightwave or 3D Studio, whereas the Serious Editor was tasked with creating the world and populating it with characters.

The original Serious engine didn't support pixel or vertex shaders, but those and more would later be added in subsequent revisions.

Release Date: 2001
Notable Games: Serious Sam (entire series)


While Max Payne wasn't released until 2001, Remedy Entertainment had been working on the game's Max-FX engine since 1997. It was developed from the ground up as a hardware-only 3D rendering engine optimized for DirectX 7.0.

Max Payne was best known dazzling gamers with its use of bullet-time, which slowed down game play, a trick made famous in the move The Matrix .

In addition to powering Max Payne , Futuremark implemented the Max-FX engine in its 3DMark99, 3DMark2000, and 3DMark2001 benchmarking suites.

Date Released: 2001
Notable Games: 3DMark (99-2001), Max Payne

Unreal 2

Whereas the original Unreal engine burst onto the scene with the game it was named after, the Unreal 2 engine first appeared in America's Army. More than just a minor update, Unreal 2 is a highly modified version of the first engine, with the overhauled code adding integrated physics and 64-bit support. It also introduced improved special effects, like true moving water, and is said to be able to handle 10x more polygons.

Date Released: 2002
Notable Games: America's Army, Brothers in Amrs, Deus Ex: Invisible War, Lineage II, Magic: The Gathering - Battlegrounds, Postal 2, Thief: Deadly Shadows, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3, Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon 2, and Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, Tribes: Vengeance, Unreal II: The Awakening, Unreal Tournament 2003 and 2004, XIII


Fans of Fallout 3, Warhammer Online, and Oblivion all have the Gamebryo engine to thank. So do console gamers, for that matter, as Gamebryo was designed to be cross-platform friendly and is the only third-party engine with Nvidia's PhysX technology directly coordinated with the Wii toolset. To call Gamebryo flexible would be an understatement.

But it's the PC we're most concerned with, and the Gamebryo engine, written in C++, supports a host of platforms and technology. Just some of these include DirectX 9 and 10, multi-core development, integration with 3D modeling tools such as 3ds Max and Maya, dynamic collision detection, particle systems, 3D audio, and a bunch of other modern goodies.

Since the Gamebryo engine was first launched six years ago, Geoff Selzer, president and CEO of Emergent Game Technologies (developer of Gamebryo), estimates it has been used in the development of around 200 games.

Date Released: 2003
Notable Games: Bully: Scholarship Edition, Dark Age of Camelot, Empire Earth II and III, Fallout 3, Oblivion, Prince of Persia 3D, Six Meier's Civilization IV, Zoo Tycoon 2

Doom 3 / id Tech 4

Now known as id Tech 4, the Doom 3 engine ended up being a major rewrite of id Tech 3, though that was never the original intention. But when id Software decided to make the switch from C to C++, an overhaul couldn't be avoided.

The Doom 3 engine pushed the hardware envelope, requiring DirectX 8.0-capable or higher videocards such as a GeForce 3 or at least a Radeon 8500 (PC Gamer recommended a Radeon 9800 when reviewing Doom 3 ).This was primarily due to the addition of unified lighting and shadowing, whereas every surface would go through the same rendering pipeline. Most light surfaces were also done in real-time, allowing for more realistic shadows, but at the expense of being able to render soft shadows. To get around this, projected lights could be used to create the illusion of soft shadows.

For a long time, Doom 3 would serve as a popular performance metric while benchmarking, but has since been supplanted by much more demanding titles, such as Crysis .

Date Released: 2004
Notable Games: Doom 3, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Prey, Quake 4


Now a four year old engine, Valve continues to tweak Source so that it stays relevant. Source was first used to drive Counter Strike: Source , but was really lauded for Half Life 2 , the only item reviewed to ever receive an 11 verdict in Maximum PC (January 2005 issue) and praised as the "best game ever made" (settle down Monkey Island fans).

Source attacks game development on all fronts, including advanced Shader technologies, dynamic lighting and shadows, physics, several effects such as realistic looking reflective water surfaces and real-time motion blur, and much more. It also sports an advanced facial animation system and lip-syncing.

A modern engine, Source now includes multi-processor optimizations, an efficient networking architecture, and hordes of zombies that have never been so fun to kill ( Left 4 Dead ).

Date Released: 2004
Notable Games: Counter Strike: Source, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, Garry's Mod,Half Life 2, Left 4 Dead, Portal, Postal III


It's said that Crytek originally developed CryEngine as a technology demo called X-Isle to show what Nvidia's Geforce 3 was capable of, and it was so impressive, it ended up giving birth to Far Cry , a surprise hit that seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Now a multiplatform engine (CryEngine was originally a PC-only game engine, but now supports consoles as well), Develop recently selected CryEngine 3 as one of the top 10 game engines.

High on visuals, CryEngine's use of pixel shaders made for realistic water in Far Cry . Adding to the level of immersion was lush vegetation and no load times as you wandered the vast landscape.

With the help of CryEngine, Crytek would again push the hardware envelope with Crysis , a shader heavy DirectX 10 game (it also supports DirectX 9) that remains one of the most brutal gaming benchmarks available.

Date Released: 2004
Notable Games: Crysis, Crysis Warhead, Far Cry


RAGE, or Rockstar Advanced Game Engine, was a joint collaboration between RAGE Technology Group and Rockstar and replaced RenderWare as Rockstar's game engine of choice. RAGE combines a rendering framework, physics engine, audio engine, network libraries, animation engine, scripting language, and more into a tidy package. Some of those features come from other sources, such the Euphoria engine (animation) and Bullet physics engine, parts of which have been integrated into RAGE.

One of Rockstar's goals in developing its own engine was to make objects feel more realistic, particularly when speeding around locales in different sized vehicles or running on foot. In addition, weather plays a role in how vehicles handle in Grand Theft Auto IV , the second game to utilze RAGE ( Table Tennis being the first). Rockstar also spent considerable time attempting to make explosions look more realistic, mainly through particle effects.

Date Released: 2006
Notable Games: Grand Theft Auto IV, Midnight Club: Los Angeles, Rockstar Presents Table Tennis

Unreal 3

The most recent of the Unreal engines, Unreal 3 is a complete development framework for DirectX 10-capable PCs, as well as both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game consoles. According to its developers, "every aspect of the Unreal Engine has been designed with ease of content creation and programming in mind."

Like Rockstar's RAGE, Unreal 3 includes some 'middleware' technologies, resulting in a smorgasbord of functionality. The robust feature-set includes a multi-threaded rendering system (Gemini), a 64-bit color HDR rendering pipeline, various physics effects powered by Nvidia's PhysX, particle effects (Cascade), in-game cinematics (Matinee), a complex skeletal animation system supporting up to 4 bone influences per vertex along with full mesh and bone LOD support, and a ton of other programming goodies.

Unreal 3 has been the basis of numerous games, not the least of which is Unreal Tournament 3 , which is actually the fourth game in the Unreal Tournament series and the eight Unreal game overall. Unreal Tournament 3 is perhaps most notable as one of the first (and few at the time) AAA games to support AGEIA's (now Nvidia's) PhysX.

Date Released: 2007
Notable Games: America’s Army 3.0, American McGee’s Grimm, Army of Two, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway, Bioshock 1 & 2, DC Universe Online, Duke Nukem Forever (*snicker*), Gears of War 1 & 2, Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust, Mass Effect 1 & 2, Mirror’s Edge, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas 1 & 2, Unreal Tournament 3


Developed by NaturalMotion, Euphoria is an animation engine capable of creating animation on the fly. According to its developers, Euphoria combines artificial intelligence, bio-mechanics, and physics, the end result of which is a much more natural simulation of the human (or creature) body than what's possible with ragdoll physics.

Part of the reason for this is that Euphoria simulates not just the skeleton, but also muscles and the nervous system. Adaptive intelligence modules control how a character moves and adds to the realism moreso than what is possible through predefined animations.

Rockstar integrated parts of Euphoria into its RAGE game engine, but NaturalMotion insists Euphoria isn't middleware. You can view a tech demo of Euphoria by clicking here .

Date Released: 2007
Notable Games: Grand Theft Auto IV, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed


We're not sure why EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE) opted to call their game engine 'Frostbite,' but one thing's for sure - this engine was designed to blow things up.

Built from the ground up for the multi-core PCs, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3, characteristics of the Frostbite engine include large destructible landscapes, destructible buildings and objects, and even destructible foliage, all of which are evident in Battlefield: Bad Company , a game which boasts that up to 92 percent of the environment can be destroyed.

DICE makes it clear that Frostbite isn't intended as a Battlefield -only engine and that things like procedural texturing helps developers overcome numerous design issues, such as memory bandwidth constraints. Frostbite can also be described as a Shader-heavy engine with multiple shading backends, including DirectX 9 Shader Model 3.0 (PC and Xbox 360) and Direct3D (Vista).

Date Released: 2008
Notable Games: Battlefield: Bad Comany 1 & 2, Battlefield 1943

Anvil / Scimitar

According to Claude Langlais, Technical Director of Ubisoft Montréal, most of the engine and tools used for Assassin's Creed were built from scratch. This, along with wanting a dedicated tools team to build, support, and evolve those tools led to the decision to build the Anvil engine (formerly known as Scimitar) from the ground up.

Along with having flexible tools, fluid animation was an early goal of the Anvil engine, which is evident when climbing or hopping buildings in Assassin's Creed . To make that animation possible, Anvil needed to be a multi-threading engine. This also allowed the game developers to create a game world that would be loaded dynamically.

Increasingly common to modern game engines, Anvil includes a bit of middleware, primarily for collision detection and pathfinding AI, as well as Autodesk's HumanIK middleware to enhance animation and movement mechanics.

Date Released: 2008
Notable Games: Assassin's Creed, Prince of Persia, Shaun White Snowboarding


While Dunia has so far only been used in Far Cry 2 , Ubisoft has stated it plans to use the engine for several future projects. The engine itself shares its roots with CryEngine, but according to Ubisoft, only 2-3 percent of the code got re-used.

Dunia is also much more forgiving on PC hardware than CryEngine 2, which was used in Crysis . While Dunia takes advantage of multi-core processors and supports both DirectX 9 and 10, Dominic Guay, Far Cry 2' s Technical Director, pointed out in an interview with Gamasutra that they had Far Cry 2 running on a Pentium 4-class processor with a GeForce 6600 graphics card.

Destructible environments, night-and-day cycles, non-scripted enemy AI, support for large player maps without specific levels, and a dynamic music system are all traits of Dunia.

Date Released: 2008
Notable Games: Far Cry 2

Did we miss one of your favorite game engines? Tell us all about it in the comments section below!

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