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The Battle of the Game Engines – Unity vs SunBurn

05.07.2012
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Introduction

Unity and SunBurn are two of the top game engines, and are revered by indie developers from all corners of the development world. The following article details my observations of both engines and lays bare for all to see the outline plans and feature lists for each.

Here are some download pages to get you started in testing these two frameworks:

SunBurn 
Windows Phone SDK
AppHub Sign up

Unity
Multiple platforms


Unity vs. SunBurn: A High Level Feature Comparison



High Level View of SunBurn

SunBurn is a very powerful game engine built upon the XNA framework targeting Xbox, PC and Windows Phone.  Currently at version 2 it has been evolving in leaps and bounds since its original inception as a dynamic lighting and rendering engine.

As you can see from the brief, it is well rounded and is still evolving and improving, delivering even more powerful functionality directly to its targeted platforms.  (It’s been noted that even some of the higher end features usually only found on the higher platforms have also been made to work cross platform on Windows Phone)

Community members such as Philipe Da Silva (@philippedasilva) and Sebastian Gray (@DSebJ) have even taken this further thanks to SunBurns native extensibility with entire supporting frameworks and components.  Check out the indiefreaks Game Framework (IGF) and DSebJ’s tutorials

High Level View of Unity

Unity is a unique multi-platform offering that lets you target many mobile platforms with an additional web client offering with support for most common browsers There are also PC/Mac versions to make use of even more power should you need it, but its main focus is in the web/mobile arena. 

Version 3.5 was recently released and it offers a host of features that benefit both the developer and the player.

From the brief, you can see Unity has a lot to offer and a lot of out of the box support.  One thing that does make Unity stand out is its official Asset store where you can download or purchase add-on components or scripts to help you save time

Keeping You Productive – The Editors

As developers who use these graphics engines, the biggest thought on their mind beyond what the raw engine delivers is the ease of use and the quality of the editor (if it even has one) and it’s capability for extension into your development tool chain.

Both Unity and SunBurn have, in my opinion, world-class editing systems with their own unique focus, Unity has an almost complete engine modeling tool, including the ability to create objects on the fly for use in game (not quite a full 3d Modeler but powerful in its simplicity), whereas SunBurn’s editor is full-featured, but designed to be extensible from the ground up so you can make it into whatever tool you need it to be or add your own game specific functions to manage your game entities.

All About The Lighting

Lighting is where both of these engines have really focused their power, solving all the mathematical issues associated with creating shadows or illuminating your scene.  Both give you basic lighting in the low end versions, which include illumination / spot lights, but if you want real bang for your buck then you will need to invest and this is where one of the real differences between the two engines hits home – the price.

For $300 you get the Pro version of SunBurn (some discounts may apply) which includes all the features. Unity is considerably more expensive at $1500 per platform, which can be cost prohibitive for an indie developer. Building for PC/Mac, Android and IOS would cost  $4500.

The Pro versions of both Engines are on par with similar built-in features or features extended through community support, and both allow you to extend the framework with your own components and features. With SunBurn you are also able to extend the editor to make it more integrated in to your game (creating custom behaviors and make the edit build your levels for you).

Below is a table with more detailed feature comparisons and the editions they are supported in:

Rugged Terrain

Both Engines offer the staple of generated terrain through height-maps, although out of the box Unity does offer more tweaks and buttons to configure the terrain how you like with several random techniques and erosion emulation (personally I find this quite stunning).

Where SunBurn makes up for this lack of configurability is in the materials department, allowing for separate materials (including emissive and normal maps) to be used per level.

Both however offer an advanced collision system for the terrain tuned to work as effectively as possible, although again SunBurn allows you to change the physics system if you wish, but then again Unity’s physics engine is built on Nvidia’s PhysX system.  The choice is up to you.

At the time of writing though, a new and exciting plug-in for SunBurn is currently being developed by a community member to provide a procedural terrain component.  It’s in the initial stages of beta at the moment but offers a lot of promise (do I hear deformable terrain or procedural dungeon anyone? :D).

What’s in Store?

One of the biggest differences between SunBurn and Unity is Unity’s Asset Store.  It is a fully-fledged marketplace for downloading and purchasing both assets and components for your Unity package.

If you build your own components you can also submit them to the store for free download or make a little side cash if you think it’s good enough.

SunBurn does not have an equivalent to this, however the community has been very forthcoming with new plug-ins and content.  Newer frameworks (like the Indiefreaks Game Framework) are seeking ways to offset their development costs by charging for sample code (not the framework itself) but this may well be offset with distinct discounts for the SunBurn engine itself (not to be combined by any other discount)

Let us not forget there are also many other avenues for gathering model, textures and audio resources out there in the World Wide Web, both for free and paid.

Final Thoughts

Choosing which engine to go for will purely come down to the primary platforms that you are targeting and how much cash you have in your pocket.  Both engines have the same goals towards a single design that, with minimal re-work, will work on other platforms (including those they are yet planning to move to)

Another thing to keep in mind is what stage you are at in your game development lifecycle and your commitment. While Unity was free until April 8th, it was certainly a good option to start with, but as the discount season is now over (they might come back again and there is also the Indie/Framework edition) then the scales tip in favor of SunBurn. However no matter which engine you go for, the knowledge you gain in learning how to build games will suit you for the other.  You can always choose to start with SunBurn (or just XNA for that matter), learn game development with an engine and editor, build your portfolio and then take what you have to Unity later to expand, always good to spread your wealth.

 

Published at DZone with permission of Simon Jackson, author and DZone MVB.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)