C++ has long been the language of choice in professional game engine development.

This was not always the case as C and assembler were dominant for some time before C++ with games like Quake being the last vestiges of this.

Of course, some games are written in interpreted languages, originally BASIC and more recently JavaScript and some game engines such as Unity use languages like C# for scripting. C# is middle ground between script languages and C-like languages using the “everything’s a pointer” model and garbage collection. It is easier to learn than C++ and less likely to experience undefined behaviour leading to crashes.

It should be noted that the runtimes of Unity and other game engines that use C# are actually written in C++.

So why C++ and more recently, why Rust?

  • Part 1 - The case for Rust in games.
  • Part 2 - An example: breakout in Bevy
  • Links

Andy Thomason has worked in the game industry since the 1970’s developing Namco console games and AI Chess players in Z80 assembler as a teenager.

He has worked for Sony twice (Psygnosis and SN Systems) doing research in game technology such as the PS3 and Vita compilers.

Part 1 - The case for Rust in games.

The C/C++ programming model - Stack and Heap

C++ is based on C and in fact the original C++ compiler, CFront transcoded C++ into C. C uses as “Stack and Heap” model to handle dynamically created objects.

If we write a C function with a variable

void my_function() {
    int x = 1;
    printf("%d", x);

then the variable x is stored in a stack frame which is reserved when we call my_function and removed when we return from the function.

We can also allocate objects that live longer using malloc to get a pointer to the heap so that when we return from a function, we still have our object.

This all looks like this:

+---------------+ top
+ Stack         +
+---------------+ SP
+               +
+ unallocated   +
+               +
+---------------+ BRK
+ Heap          +
+---------------+ bottom

When you call a function, the stack pointer, SP goes down creating more space, when you return, SP goes up freeing the space.

The heap, by comparison, grows up from the bottom, but never shrinks. Instead we divide the heap into chunks which are allocated by malloc and freed up by free.

Thus the lifetime of objects on the stack is limited to the call being made, but the lifetime of an object allocated on the heap can be much longer.

Advantages or C and C++

Engines written in C++ are much faster than those written in Java, GO and C# because you get much closer to the machine. You can go a lot faster still if you write in assembler, but those skills are in decline.

Writing in C++ does not make the code go faster on its own, but it gives you a larger toolbox to work with and lets you talk to the hardware more directly. On game consoles, for example, the C++ code is used to write to hardware registers directly, bypassing bulky APIs.

C++ also lets you use multithreaded code and most modern C++ game engines let you create huge number of tasks and events which will be handled during the frame or over the course of many frames.

In garbage collected languages like C#, objects are only allocated on the heap which is much costlier than allocating on the stack.

Problems with C and C++

If an untrained driver sits in a formula one car and tries to drive it, they will likely crash immediately and it is the same for C and C++ - the program will crash.

Consider the following code:

int *fred() {
    int x = 0;
    return &x;

This function returns the address of the variable x, but after returning from this function, x is no longer there and writing to it will likely cause a crash. This is a dangling pointer.

Finding this kind of fault is very hard in C++ and this puts a lot of people off writing games in C++.

Another problem with multi-threaded code is the race condition.

Consider this code:

   // Thread 1
   x = 1;
   y = 2;

   // Thread 2
   x = 3;
   y = 4;

   // Thread 3
   X = x;
   Y = y;

What is the value of (X, Y)? This can be (1, 2) (3, 4) (1, 4) (undefined, 4) and so on. Many many faults in game engines exist because of this.

Rust is the successor to C++

Rust was designed to get the benefits of C++ without the pain of having to worry about race conditions and dangling pointers.

It is a complete redesign of C++ with only the modern bits and a safety-orientated checking system. It encourages a common style of code generation trhouh warnings about variable names and has extensive security checks to avoid some of the nasty network attacks that can disable games and steal user information.

Rust has two modes safe and unsafe. Most of the code is written in safe mode which gives you guantees that avoid the problems of C++ but some code is unsafe such as interactions with hardware.

For example, the dangling pointer example we give is not possible in Rust:

fn my_function() -> &i32 {
    let x = 1;

This will generate an error.

Likewise with the race condition example, passing writable references to variables to other threads is not allowed in safe Rust, so you don’t have to worry about it.

So why not just stick with C#?

C# also gives these guarantees and indeed if you are writing small games with low performance requirements, then C# may be exactly what you are looking for.

But for large games, such as the Disney Engine which is over 5M lines of code, using C# is just not going to be possible and if you want to create effects that Unity is not pre-wired to support, then good luck.

Rust makes it much easier to write large, multi-threaded games, do networking, build servers to host thousands of players and many more things.

Rust has a huge collection of libraries which you can use by adding a single line to the manifest file like the NPM JavaScript manager. The Cargo build tool will download source code of any of the hundreds of thousands of libraries available and compile it on the spot.

In many ways, it is the ease of using libraries that makes Rust number one choice in new technologies such as Block Chain and Fintech.

Who uses Rust in the game industry?

Some studios, like Embark in Sweden, have adopted Rust and are pushing the ecosystem. We are on the verge of seing a new generation of Rust game engines become stable enough for large scale development.

For example libraries for:

  • Windowing
  • Audio
  • Shaders
  • 3D rendering
  • Text rendering
  • AI
  • ECS (Enitity-component-system model)
  • VR
  • 3D format loaders
  • Maths
  • Mesh tools.


As well as a stack of fully formed game engines:

  • Bevy
  • Fyrox
  • Amethyst
  • ggez
  • macroquad
  • Piston

I’ve been using Bevy engine to do shader experiments with molecular modelling, for example. Bevy uses Webgpu to make games that can run on desktops, phones, browsers and many more platforms.

Bevy has VR support, networking and many more things but it is still and “expert” level tool, it doesn’t have the easy gui that Unity has but suits my way of working.

Fyrox has a GUI-driven scene generator and is orientated at scripting like Unity:

Amethyst is also quite programmer orientated

As is Piston.

What needs to happen

Most Rust game engines are very much orientated towards programmers. For exmple, bulding a large open world survival strategy game like Factorio in Bevy would be quite easy, but would require some programming skill.

To become more mainstream, these game engines need to develop GUI interfaces to allow non-programmers to build games. Some have started in that direction, but we will see technically orientated games long before we see artist-lead FPS games, for example.

Still, if it were a choice of starting a new game engine in C++ or in Rust, the smart money would go for Rust as it is hugely popular and much easier to build large projects without breaking the bank.

If your were to start learning a low level language now, Rust would be the choice, especially as most Rust jobs are work-from-home with Europe developing as a centre for Rust digital nomads.

As a lifestyle, the open source world of Rust is much preferable to being stuck in a room of hundreds of C++ programmers on an industrial estate in the middle of nowhere, not to mention any game studios in particular!

Part 2 - An example: breakout in Bevy

To illustrate what it is like to write a game in Rust, lets start with one of the examples from the Bevy game engine:

Like in C and C++, the entry point to a Rust program is main()

fn main() {

If this is all we did, then we would get a blank window.

So what we need to do is add data and code to make breakout run.

This adds two data resources, a scoreboard which we will define and a clear colour which is a system defined resource. Resources are not assets and do not draw themselves. We need entities for the rendering plugin to draw anything, for example. Resources are just bits of data which we will use.

        .insert_resource(Scoreboard { score: 0 })

Next we add an event, which we will use to signal collisions between the ball and other entities.


And to make the game work, we have some systems which are functions that get called to update things.

        .add_systems(Startup, setup)
        .add_systems(Update, (update_scoreboard, bevy::window::close_on_esc))

The .chain() makes these functions get run in sequence. Bevy is a multi-threaded game engine and may run systems in any order on different threads if needs be.

The first of these systems is setup which is called at the Start of the game.

// Add the game's entities to our world
fn setup(
    mut commands: Commands,
    mut meshes: ResMut<Assets<Mesh>>,
    mut materials: ResMut<Assets<ColorMaterial>>,
    asset_server: Res<AssetServer>,
) {
    // ...

The parameters to setup can come in any order and use Rust’s flexible type system to make Assets and other components acessible to the function.

The commands parameter is an interface that lets you change the state of the game. For example:


sets up a 2D camera for the game world.

    // Sound
    let ball_collision_sound = asset_server.load("sounds/breakout_collision.ogg");

adds a sound resource to the game.

        SpriteBundle {
            // ...

Adds a bundle of components to an entity (the paddle). A bundle is an easy way of deploying a number of components at a time.

The component system is similar to Unity. Each object in the game world has a number of components such as Transform and Sprite as well as some user-defined components.

The Transform component, for example, specifies the location of a sprite and the Sprite component describes the colour, image and other properties.

Here Paddle and Collider are user defined components.

Likewise, we spawn entities such as the ball, the bricks, the walls and so on.

Making custom components

Making custom components is easy in Bevy. We use a derive macro to generate extra code needed for the component. In these two cases there is no extra data needed, so the structs don’t need curly braces:

struct Paddle;

struct Ball;

The types, however, are used to make a distinction between Paddle and Ball and will be used to select the components when we run the systems.

Moving the paddle

To move the paddle, we need a system which takes user input and all the entities which have Transform and Paddle components like this:

fn move_paddle(
    keyboard_input: Res<ButtonInput<KeyCode>>,
    mut query: Query<&mut Transform, With<Paddle>>,
    time: Res<Time>,
) {
    let mut paddle_transform = query.single_mut();

there is only one paddle, so query.single_mut(); will do and also enable us to write to the transform (move the paddle).

By default in Rust, references like &Transform are read-only and we need to use &mut Transform and single_mut to allow us to change the transform.

The rest of the function reads the keyboard and moves the paddle.

Checking for collisions

fn check_for_collisions(
    mut commands: Commands,
    mut scoreboard: ResMut<Scoreboard>,
    mut ball_query: Query<(&mut Velocity, &Transform), With<Ball>>,
    collider_query: Query<(Entity, &Transform, Option<&Brick>), With<Collider>>,
    mut collision_events: EventWriter<CollisionEvent>,
) {
    // ...

This system has:

  • An interface to change the engine state.
  • A writeable Scoreboard resource.
  • A query to find the Velocity and Transform of the ball.
  • A query to find anything with a Transform and a collider, which may be a brick.
  • An EventWriter to signal collisions to other systems.

We spin round checking the ball position against the bricks and walls, updating the scoreboard and sending events if anything collides.


fn play_collision_sound(
    mut commands: Commands,
    mut collision_events: EventReader<CollisionEvent>,
    sound: Res<CollisionSound>,
) {
    // ...

Here we receive collision events and convert them into sounds.

We create the sound by spawning the collision sound in a bundle. Yes! sounds are entities too.


Because of the danger of race conditions, Bevy is careful not to call two systems at the same time with a mutable reference to the same component.

Bevy’s use of #[derive] and the Rust type system makes for a more C#-like development environment.

With very large games, with hundreds of thousands of entitites, this will make a big difference.

That’s all folks

We talked a little about how Rust, a low level language, makes it easier to write safe multi-threaded code, stealing some thunder from C# and giving a significant performance boost.

We showed you how easy it is to build games using the Bevy ECS (Entity-component-system) model.

So happy Rusting, and if you get the opportunity, try writing a game in Bevy. It may take a bit of getting used to, but you are a champion!



Are we game yet Ecosystem

Bevy Game Engine

Fyrox Game Engine

Amethyst Game Engine