Focus: Unreal Engine is the first of a series of posts where I’ll share my experience and discoveries working with Epic’s free Unreal Engines for video game creation. There will is no set time for the articles to end, but I will have a goal: the creation of a playable game level for Halloween in October, 2019. I will share the level with everyone for learning and for fun!
Unreal Engine History
The Unreal game engine was essentially created/coded by Epic Games founder, Tim Sweeney, for the first-person shooter Unreal which was released in 1998. The engine also provided a level editor, UnrealEd, which was used to construct game levels. Epic was unique in providing the level editors to players because it allowed them to modify the game for the first time.
Here’s Ted Sweeney on the Unreal Engine:
The big goal with the Unreal technology all along was to build up a base of code that could be extended and improved through many generations of games…The early plans to design an extensible multi-generational engine happened to give us a great advantage in licensing the technology as it reached completion.
That was in 1999. The Unreal Engine eventually grew through 3 iterations improving and updating game technology for each new version. Games made with the engine became increasingly popular as did the popularity of the game engine for those professional game creators.
Unreal 3 and the release of the Unreal Development Kit
Unreal 3 was a significant upgrade over version 2 of the engine in all areas including the renderer, sound system, physics engine and more. But most significantly was the release of the free Unreal Development Kit in 2004. Previously gamers could only create games with the engine as a licensee, now with the UDK anyone could create a game with Unreal 3. Over the life of Unreal 3, technical improvements came regularly. Some significant games made with Unreal 3 include Gears of War and Batman: Arkham City.
Unreal 4 and the democracy of game development
Significant improvements in computer graphics technology helped make Unreal 4 the very best version of Epic’s game engine to date. In development since 2003, there are so many improvements in the engine it would take too long to list them all. One of the main updates is removal of UnrealScript which was replaced by C++. Real-time global illumination was also added to Unreal 4.
But the biggest change was an initial move to a subscription model for developers of the engine which gave them access to support and the game code. This democratized the Unreal engine and made it available to practically everyone who wanted to create a game. Eventually, in 2015, Epic made Unreal 4 available for free and created a marketplace where media creators could sell game-based products with Epic taking a modest fee.
Using Unreal 4 in 2019
At present, you can download version 4.22 of the Unreal engine for free. There is a large user community and plenty of free and inexpensive media at the Unreal marketplace. Epic has create a series of “Blueprints” which are packages of scripts/media for various types of games and gameplay. The learning curve of Unreal 4 is very low compared to other game engines and 3D applications and Epic has done an outstanding job of providing learning tools and documentation. There are other great free game engines (cough…Unity…cough), but Unreal has been around longer and not only works hard to develop the engine and make it easy to use, but provides assistance above and beyond. Note Epic’s recent grant of 1.2 million dollars to the Blender Foundation, for example.
The Goal of the Unreal Focus Series
My goal with this article series is to do two things: one, share my discoveries and break-throughs in using Unreal 4 and to create a very specific project: a Halloween-style dark ride game level. I plan on having this done by October 30th and making it available to all. If you have never gone on a dark-ride (I remember them from going to the county fairs) you can find out more about them here: Dark Ride History