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A software engine is a computer program, or part of a computer program, that serves as the core foundation for a larger piece of software. This term is often used in game development, in which it typically refers to either a graphics engine or a game engine around which the rest of a video game is developed. While the term can also be used in other areas of software development, its particular meaning can be more nebulous in those instances. A software engine can be developed by a company that is using it, or may be developed by another company and then licensed to other developers.
When used in the general context of computer software development, a software engine typically refers to the core elements of a particular program. This usually does not include features such as the user interface (UI) and numerous art assets added to the core engine itself. For an operating system (OS), for example, the software engine might be the source code that establishes file hierarchy, input and output methods, and how the OS communicates with other software and hardware. The exact contents of such an engine can vary from program to program, however.
In computer and console game development, a software engine typically refers to either a game’s graphics engine or the overall game engine. The graphics engine for a game is typically the software used to properly render out the graphics seen by players. This often uses art assets created in other programs, which are then ported into the graphics engine for use during game play. The use of a software engine for the graphics of a game can make rendering much easier, and may also simplify the process of ensuring software and hardware compatibility.
A software engine in game design can also refer to a game engine, which is a large program that makes up the core of a game. This engine often handles how artificial intelligence (AI) for game characters is handled, the physics in the game world, and even provides tools for the input of art assets and the creation of a UI for a game. By using a game engine, the creators can make future development much easier, especially for sequels. This type of software engine is often created as the first part of game development, and can be licensed to other companies to allow them to more quickly and easily develop new games using the basic engine.
And the company that comes up with a good engine for gaming can ride that thing for years. Notice how companies that have good racing, first person shooter or fighting engines will base several games on it. That leads to some efficiency, perhaps, but the company that sticks with an engine for too long risks release stale repeats of the same formula.