The top 20 mobile development tools for 2016

The top 20 mobile development tools for 2016
May 6th 2016 at 9:32AM

Develop rounds up some of the best tools and tech, from beautiful engines and rigid infrastructure to sumptuous audio and eye-watering art, designed to get your smartphone or tablet game on the road to success

SpeedTree for Games

Company: SpeedTree

Price: $19 per month

Platforms: Unity, Unreal

Try it yourself: speedtree.com

The Develop Award-winning vegetation modelling tool comes complete with add-ons for both Unity and Unreal, allowing mobile devs to either build their own flora or utilise the software’s library of pre-made assets. The tech features tree resolutions featuring approximately 1,000 triangles specifically optimised for use on lower-performance platforms such as smartphones.

Check out: Madfinger Games’ zombie-shooter Unkilled made use of SpeedTree’s Unity plug-in to populate its world with some plant life.


Perforce Helix 

Company: Perforce Software

Price: Free up to 20 users, from $320 per user afterwards for a 12-month subscription

Platforms: iOS, Android

Try it yourself: perforce.com/helix

Helix’s versioning software features a number of helpful features to track and scale growth. These include code stability metrics, the GitSwarm ecoystem and threat detection. The platform’s 20/20 Program allows developers to use the software freely for up to 20 users or workspaces, but features no upper limits on users, transactions or data. Perforce SDKs are available in C/C++, Java, .NET, Ruby, Python, PHP and more.  Integration with IDEs, design and CAD tools, and product lifecycle tools is supported out-of-the-box.

Check out: Perforce helped the team behind Legacy Quest, the free-to-play roguelike RPG from Socialspiel and Nexon, to branch, build and merge new releases of the game across iOS and Android.


Unreal Engine

Company: Epic Games

Price: Free (with five per cent royalty after $3,000 quarterly product revenue)

Platforms: iOS, Android

Try it yourself: unrealengine.com

Highly regarded for its production values across PC, console and mobile, Epic’s Unreal Engine offers a complete C++ engine and editor source code. To get started quickly on mobile, a range of ready-made assets and tutorials are available through the marketplace. Recently-added mobile features include dynamic shadows, dynamic point lights and decals, as well as support for the cloud, IAPs and push notifications on iOS. 

Check out: Rodeo Games’ Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch is one of the first iOS titles built with Unreal Engine 4 and a visual treat on mobile.


Yebis

Company: Silicon Studio

Price: On application, royalty-free

Platforms: iOS, Android

Try it yourself: siliconstudio.co.jp/middleware/yebis/en

Alongside providing visual effects for film studios such as Pixar, Yebis can be utilised by mobile devs to reproduce life-like lens effects in 3D images, implementing realistic backlighting, focus and noise.

Check out: Stainless Games used Yebis in its virtual Magic: The Gathering card game Magic Duels to boost the visuals of the iOS and PC/console title.


Wwise

Company: Audiokinetic

Price: Varies, free for games that use under 200 audio assets

Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone

Try it yourself: audiokinetic.com

Studios looking for a little more ‘oomph’ on smart devices can quickly and cheaply implement higher-quality audio in their titles using Wwise. The tool integrates with Unity and Unreal, plus Amazon’s new Lumberyard engine.

Check out: PopCap audio lead Jaclyn Shumate utilised Wwise to keep mobile spin-off Peggle Blast’s audio content under 5MB on iOS and Android.


NextPeer

Company: Nextpeer

Price: Free (ad-supported), $199 per month (ad-free up to 100K MAUs)

Platforms: iOS, Android

Try it yourself: nextpeer.com

NextPeer aims to make mobile multiplayer easy, with a cross-platform layer that combines a social feed and in-game footage.

Check out: Nextpeer helped first-time dev Tom London create racer Drift 84 in under six months.


Unity

Company: Unity

Price: Free (Personal Edition), from $75 per month (Pro Edition)

Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Tizen

Try it yourself: unity3d.com

Unity opens up a one-click route to deployment on a range of mobile platforms for devs. It’s bolstered by the 3D and 2D tools, workflows and healthy ready-made asset store of its PC and console counterpart, as well as monetisation and retention services ideal for mobile creators.

Check out: Fireproof Games built the gorgeous graphics and intuitive controls of its acclaimed trilogy of The Room puzzle games with Unity.


Substance Designer

Company: Allegorithmic

Price: $149 (Indie licence), $590 (Pro licence)

Platforms: Unity (native), Unreal (free plugin)

Try it yourself: allegorithmic.com

Allegorithmic’s node-based texturing tool helps mobile creators keep things in order by making use of a non-linear workflow. The software’s real-time PBR viewport matches any game engine with custom shaders.

Check out: The Asphalt series uses Substance to keep file sizes down.


Stingray

Company: Autodesk

Price: $30 per month, $240 per year

Platforms: iOS, Android

Try it yourself: stingrayengine.com

Stingray makes it easier for devs to test gameplay on mobile by maintaining a live link between platforms. The latest update adds better workflows for Scaleform Studio and support for iOS Metal.

Check out: Arrowhead’s Vita title Helldivers was made with Stingray.


Cloudant

Company: IBM

Price: On application, with monthly usage pricing also available

Platforms: iOS, Android

Try it yourself: cloudant.com

IBM’s Database-as-a-Service makes use of the cloud to allow studios to easily scale up the infrastructure for their games. Up to billions of transactions can be handled daily, with mobile data replication and sync and analytics provided to keep devs on top of their title’s expansion and allow them to quickly iterate and prototype. Cloudant’s Data Layer for Mobile Applications is free to begin with, with devs paying as they grow for $1 per month.

Check out: Hothead Games uses Cloudant as the background data layer for its Big Win Sports series of mobile titles.


Marmalade

Company: Marmalade

Price: From free, moving up to monthly and annual subscriptions for on-device debugging, support tickets and more

Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Tizen, Blackberry

Try it yourself: madewithmarmalade.com

Marmalade’s titular tool boasts support for a wide range of platforms out of the box, making it suitable for devs wanting to bring their game to as many devices as possible. The Juice tool allows native iOS games to be deloyed to Android without the need to rewrite code.  Extensions are available to implement extra services such as Google Play and App Store billing, as well as Facebook and Flurry.

Check out: EA used Marmalade to bring mobile spin-off SimCity BuildIt to iOS, Android and Amazon’s Appstore.


GameSparks

Company: GameSparks

Price: 100,000 free MAUs for indies and students, on application for other users

Platforms: Unity, Unreal, Marmalade, Cocos2d and more

Try it yourself: gamesparks.com

Reducing the time and money spent on introducing server-side functionality, GameSparks’ backend service offers a library of social and monetisation mechanics to boost retention and revenue, as well as support for cross-platform multiplayer.

Check out: GameSparks helped Pixel Toys streamline the creation of Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade and implement multiple server-side features.


GameMaker: Studio

Company: YoYo Games

Price: Free, from $150 (Pro), $800 (Master Collection)

Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Tizen, Amazon Fire, PS Vita

Try it yourself: yoyogames.com/gamemaker

A drag-and-drop interface and the C-based programming language makes GameMaker suitable for amateur devs and established studios alike to quickly build prototypes and full releases. Support for in-app purchases, analytics and user engagement comes ready to go, while new third-party libraries and SDKs can also be bolted on.

Check out: Crashlands, the stylish adventure game from Butterscotch Shenanigans, was built for both mobile and PC using GameMaker.


Enlighten

Company: Geomerics

Price: Free

Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, PS Vita

Try it yourself: geomerics.com

From vivid cartoon visuals to ultra-realistic graphics, Enlighten scales to bring its illumination tech, including real-time simulation of surface lighting and true dynamic lights, from console and PC to mobile.

Check out: Angry Birds Transformers creator Exient has announced that it will use Enlighten in its next big mobile title, set for release in 2016.


MonoGame

Company: MonoGame

Price: Free

Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone

Try it yourself: monogame.net

MonoGame is built around a single framework to make taking a game cross-platform simple.

Check out: Skulls of the Shogun came to iOS, Android and Windows Phone, as well as PC and console, thanks to MonoGame.


Maya LT

Company: Autodesk

Price: £25 per month or £185 per year

Platforms: Unity, Unreal, Stingray

Try it yourself: autodesk.co.uk/products/maya-lt

Operating as a more affordable version of Autodesk’s full-bodied Maya, Maya LT is ideal for smaller studios looking to get started on mobile. Creators can make 3D models with the software’s built-in sculpting and modelling tools, before optimising them for improved performance on mobile. To make things even quicker, a range of pre-made content can be purchased from the Creative Market. A subscription to Maya LT also includes access to the firm's Stingray engine.

Check out: Wizard Ops Tactics dev Phyken Media used Maya LT’s low cost to grow its young studio and take on more projects more quickly.


FMOD

Company: Firelight Technologies

Price: From free, for one indie licence

Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, PS Vita

Try it yourself: fmod.org

Devs can instantly see the difference high-quality audio makes to their mobile game thanks to FMOD Studio’s live in-game mixing. Its 3D sound engine boasts a number of complex control options, including multi-sounds, event sounds and modulation – but wrapped up in an easily accessible UI.

Check out: Telltale’s Minecraft: Story Mode was developed with FMOD.


Defold

Company: Defold/King

Price: Free

Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone

Try it yourself: defold.com

Defold is a turn-key engine based on Lua, focused on making builds quickly and maintaining performance across multiple platforms. 

Check out: Hammarhaja created mobile indie spin-off Hammerwatch Coliseum using Defold.


CocoonJS

Company: Ludei

Price: From free

Platforms: iOS, Android, Amazon Fire, Tizen

Try it yourself: ludei.com/cocoonjs/#development

CocoonJS is a fully HTML5 compliant platform built for the purpose of bringing HTML5 projects to mobile without sacrificing performance. 

Check out: Ludei’s own iBasketGunner showcases CocoonJS’ ad-hoc implementation of a 3D physics native binding, as well as social network integration.


AppGameKit

Company: The Game Creators

Price: £61 (Standalone), £76 (Beginners Pack), £99 (Premium Pack)

Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry

Try it yourself: appgamekit.com

AppGameKit works to avoid the problems of mobile device fragmentation by providing a way for developers to code once and bring their title to various platforms. It features its own BASIC script language.

Check out: Fledgling studio Cliogames launched Space Connection: Atlas on iPhone and iPad by using AppGameKit’s cross-platform features.