Article from Issue 271/2023

This month Graham looks at Godot 4, PostRunner, LeanCreator, lurk, Cubic, SuperStarfighter, and more!

Game engine

Godot 4

We last looked at Godot a few years ago, with the release of Godot 3.0. Reflecting the ambition of that release, its coverage was consigned to our games page. But a lot has happened to the project since then. There was a $250,000 development grant from Epic, a $120,000 grant from the Russian game developer Kefir, and significant donations from Ubisoft and Embark Studios. Investments like these are rare for open source projects, and illustrate how important the project has become. It's certainly a better story than the one where a sole solitary developer works on some essential infrastructure in their spare time.

Godot has garnered this attention because it fills an important role, in much the same way that Linux does. It's an engine that helps developers create games, and the biggest and most widely used game engines are Unity and Unreal Engine (UE), both of which are unashamedly proprietary and even hostile towards portability. Developing a game for either system commits you to its APIs, rendering pipelines, and asset stores in much the same way that developing for Windows in the mid-1990s would lock you into its ecosystem. Godot is open source games development that won't lock you in, won't force you to install upgrades, and won't charge you a percentage of whatever you might sell your game for. More importantly, it will reward whatever effort you put into learning the platform with continued openness and relevance, much like the effort we've all invested in learning Linux.

Version 4 is a huge upgrade, and one that demarcates Godot's transition from an amateur's prototyping tool to a professional games development engine that can compete directly with Unity and UE's dominance. You can see this from your first glance over the user interface. The central scene view, the inspector, the scene explorer, and the node views all look consistent, slick, and professional. Behind the scenes, the 3D engine has seen great improvement, not just in low-powered OpenGL games, but in its quality and capabilities. There's a new Vulcan renderer, which will be great for Steam Deck development, as will support for AMD's FSR. There are new global illumination options, including voxel global illumination. There are advanced shadow renderers, volumetric fog, a new sky shader, and asset import capabilities with automatic LOD generation and occlusion culling. The end results are amazing, and put Godot's 3D output into the AAA league. It's also easy to explore these features, from both the excellent demos that come with the release, and from the panels around the 3D view.

For games with fewer dimensions, there's an amazing new tile map editor. This is worth a standalone review on its own because, alongside the essential drawing tools, it includes professional features such as layers, terrain auto-tiling, metadata, and animations. Tiles are expanded to remove gaps, and when partnered with the improvements to the 2D rendering output, Godot 4 has streamlined the whole process of creating 2D games. Output rendering improvements include multi-sample anti-aliasing, directional 2D lighting, and shadows. To help with programming logic, the internal scripting engine has been bumped from version 1 to version 2, and C# and .NET now have first-party support. All of these improvements are already delivering results, not just in the quality of the games being generated by Godot, but in the rate the community is expanding. It means the documentation is also improving, with more tutorials, and more video coverage, which all feed back into the success of the project and the beginning of what we hope is a new era in open source game development.

Project Website

1. Nodes and scenes: All game elements have a node, and much of a game can be created simply by adding and organizing them. 2. Viewport: Create views to see and position nodes within your game, and ultimately, create what the player sees. Multiple views can remain accessible as tabs. 4. Object manipulation: Objects can be manipulated within the viewport much like they can in Blender, with X, Y, and Z handles. 5. Properties: Also as in Blender, edit node properties without resorting to any code. 6. Inspector: Switch between properties, nodes, and editing history. 7. Output pane: See debugging information for various parts of your game. 8. Resources: Everything needed for your game is listed here, including code and shader files.

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