I’ve been working with Spine and DragonBones recently on a project and thought it would be useful for other animators to see what the difference between the two are. Fight!
The most obvious difference between DragonBones and Spine is in the price.
Spine currently costs $69 for the basic “essential” package, and $299 for the “Professional”. (And to get the most out of Skeletal animation, you really need to go with the pro)
DragonBones costs nothing.
It’s free! When I started with bones animation this was a no brainer. See if it works for the project and if not, nothing is lost.
So what’s it like to use?
If you’re going to be staring at a program until your eyes hurt, it has to be intuitive and easy to handle.
DragonBones instantly hits that comfort zone, with a very Adobe-like interface. Deceptively simple, but it still packs in all the features. If you’ve used any Adobe software ever you’ll feel right at home. I’ve been using the Mac version primarily, but testing it out on Windows it also feels good there.
Spine on the other hand… while it looks similar, it’s so weird to use. It feels like someone has once read about user interfaces and tried their best. Ok, a bit harsh, but it’s just so alien. It’s all it’s own little enclosed system, with no native system menus. Everything seems to be hidden away but once you understand that it starts to make sense. But it’s just so odd.
The most confusing bit is the open and save dialogues:
I feel that most of my issues with Spine would be fixed if they simply used the default system dialogue.
It’s really a case of why ‘fix’ something that doesn’t need fixing?
Functionality wise, there seems to be parity. Both fulfilling the basic skeletal animation and DragonBones can even do some of the “Pro” features of Spine, such as mesh deformation.
As they both develop I suspect that they’ll divulge down different paths. But for now, it means you can move between Spine and DragonBones fairly pain free because of their similarities.
That is, until you hit the bugs of DragonBones. Uh-oh.
Bugs & Updates
DragonBones has very active development, so you’re going to see it develop at a super fast rate. I’ve had issues one week that were actually fixed the next, so that’s fantastic. However with this quick turn around more bugs come and go at quite the pace.
Sadly the bugs I’ve encountered aren’t small either. They’ve broken features or introduced serious app crashes.
Spine, on the other hand is considerably more stable. From my experience I haven’t encountered any bugs and updates are rarer – potentially because of the lack of issues? I can only guess.
Here comes a new challenger!!
As an artist/animator I was happy to overlook the DragonBones bugs and just find ways around it. For the price? It’s worth it. But when it came to handing it over to a developer, well…
Distilled thoughts from Josh at RareDrop Games
- DragonBones has very slow load times. With it’s synchronous caching causing a noticeable freeze as it loads in the data.
- With Unity, DragonBones doesn’t seem to play nicely with Prefabs. Which meant lots of unnecessary re-loading of data.
- Texture scaling isn’t great either. We ended up with large 4096 sized textures, instead of multiple smaller textures. 4096 sized texture also don’t play very nicely with Unity by default.
- The constant updates to DragonBones resulted in some seriously confused moments of debugging over something that shouldn’t of happened!
- And quite simply, Spine generally has better support for more advanced features.
DragonBones created so many problems for us. Animations come out wrong, way too many import issues into our game engine and there was general hair-pulling-a-plenty.
We eventually decided to ditch it when we did a quick tester with Spine. We simply found that Spine was the far superior selection when it came to taking these animations into the game. So many problems were instantly fixed, so we opted to re-do everything in Spine.
DragonBones just wasn’t worth the stress. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter about the tool to make the animations if you can’t get them in game.
Sorry DragonBones, Spine is the clear choice for making games right now. Maybe that will change in the future, but I honestly can’t recommend it right now. Spine fans, I’m sure are nodding furiously.
DragonBones is likely a good tool for very small projects – fun animations, or very basic games. But anything beyond that I’d have to go for Spine. For all of it’s ugly, ugly sins.