Unigine, the Russian developer behind the Unigine engine, recently released Unigine Community SDK. This is a free game engine that you can use to create your own projects, as long as you fit a certain criteria (having less than $100K in funding or revenue in the last 12 months in case of commercial projects, or using the engine only for learning or academic purposes).
In a world where we already have two big players in the 3D engines arena (Unity and Unreal Engine), it's fair to wonder how Unigine will fare. If you have never heard of Unigine, I wouldn't be surprised. Up until now, the engine has only been available for serious games or simulation projects, but not entertainment.
When you download the installer from the website, you actually install the Unigine SDK Browser, a window similar to the Unity Hub or Epic Games Launcher.
From that window, you can install Unigine (I don't know if you can install more than one version, since there's only one Community SDK version available right now), create projects, download samples and download add-ons (the add-ons are limited to a few buildings, roads, vehicles, vegetation objects and effects). When you try to create a new project, you are prompted for some information regarding the project, including the name, location and programming language (you can select between C++, C# and UnigineScript).
Of course, the first thing I did was to download a project to test what the engine was capable of. The rendering quality is very good, and comparable to the Unity engine using the PBR renderer (as I've discussed in my UE4 series, the Unreal Engine 4 renderer produces slightly “softer” images).
The Unigine interface will look familiar to those coming from UE4 or Unity. It has a viewport, Asset Browser, a Parameters tab (that would be Unity's Inspector), a World Nodes tab (the Hierarchy), etc. Hoever, I noticed Unigine also has a tab where it lists all the materials used in the scene.
Editing a material in Unigine is similar to editing the material in Unity. You can modify the different parameters and see the result in real time, in the viewport. By default, materials only have slots for Albedo, Shading, Normal and Emissive maps, but you can activate more maps in the “States” tab of the material editor.
Another thing I like is how you can turn on the sound directly on the viewport, making it possible to navigate the scene in the viewport and listen to all the ambient sounds. I personally find this very useful since I always use that feature to tweak the ambient sound in my levels. A very nice touch is being able to create “directional” sound by modifying the angles of the sound sources. This can be very useful to make sound audible only when you are in a room, and not when you are behind the wall in the other room, for example.
Unigine supports Virtual Reality, and even includes 3 samples that are VR ready. I am not big into VR, but I am glad to see this engine supporting that, since I know some people will be interested in developing VR applications.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Unigine Community is free if you plan to use it for non-commercial purposes or education, or when you have made less than $100K in funding or revenue in the last 12 months.
However, if you plan to use it commercially, and have made more than those $100K, you can also get Unigine Community Pro for $100 a month (there's also Unigine Engineering and Sim, but those are aimed at companies creating serious games, enterprise applications or simulations).
There's no revenue share in any of the models (unlike the Unreal Engine 4 model), so that's a good thing. For reference, Unreal Engine 4 is free to use regardless of funding or revenue, but you pay Epic 5% of the gross revenue (meaning revenue BEFORE store cuts, taxes, and any other deductions) after you surpass your first $3,000; on the other hand, Unity is free to use to those who've made less than $100K in the previous 12 months, $40 if you've made between $100K and $200K in the previous 12 months, or $150 for everyone else.
Should you switch to Unigine? Well, I am the kind of game developers that thinks you should stick to your engine and only switch for specific situations (like I did when I switched “Just Let Me Go” to Unreal Engine). You can, however, take Unigine for a spin and see if you like it and if it fits your needs.
Get Unigine: https://unigine.com/get-unigine/