Using my research methods and skills I practised in the skateboards task I looked into something that was relevant to my task and useful to know for level design/games development. I decided to take an in-depth look at the Unreal Engine. I will be covering all iterations of the engine and how it grew to what it is today, I will be focusing on UE4 as this is the most modern version and what we use in college for some of our projects.
The Unreal Engine is a game engine by Epic Games. The most modern version of the engine is Unreal Engine 4 which we use in college for our environments and levels. The engine is very diverse and can be used to create many different game genres and types. The engine and tools are widely used and are very community-oriented with many community contributions to the overall build and features, this is an extremely modder friendly approach to games development and engine design.
The engine has gone through many stages to get where it is today. There are 4 main iterations that I will be covering in this blog (UE1,2,3 and 4), each engine is from a different time so there is a massive range of games from old to modern on all of Epic’s engines.
The Unreal Engine is the first in the series of engines. The engine took many advanced features such as scripting, AI, networking and moddability and shipped them together as a game engine. Using a pre-made engine was a huge shortcut for games developers and designers as they could focus more on the creativity side of their games and not need to worry about all the core 3D mechanics. UE1 brought us games such as Deus Ex and Rune which are classics in their genre. Unreal Tournament was a big step in multiplayer gaming with many new and exciting weapons and ideas for deathmatch gameplay. The modding scene was very popular for this game which lead on to create many fan-made adaptations and complete new standalone mods and games out of this engine.
The competitors of it’s time would have been the id Tech 3 engine which was used for Quake III Arena, a direct competitor of Unreal Tournament. Another competitor may have been the GoldSrc engine by Valve to create Half-Life, Day of Defeat and later Team Fortress Classic. The GoldSrc engine was also very modder friendly and has hundreds of community-made modifications.
Unreal Engine was completely reworked and written from scratch to create Unreal Engine 2. This engine included more advanced features such as ragdoll physics, console support, a new level editor and more. Games such as Postal 2 and Tom Clancy’s: Splinter Cell were released using UE2. With the modability tools, Splinter Cell was able to use a modified version of the engine to allow light/dark based gameplay. In 2004 an update was released for UE2 called Unreal Engine 2.5, this further improved the engine visually and generally. From this we see games such as Bioshock and Unreal Tournament 2004.
The game Killing Floor was originally released as a modification to UT2004 and was then turned into it’s own full published game by Tripwire Interactive. The game became very popular on steam for it’s fun survival co-op gameplay. Killing Floor 2 was released in 2016 (using UE3) which vastly improves graphics and gameplay. This is an example of how open-source engines can help create great games that may not be able to be made without the modder-friendly attitude that Epic Games has.
Competitors of UE2 would be the id Tech 4 engine which was used to power Doom 3, there is a common rivalry with the Unreal Engine and the id Tech engine throughout the timeline as they both have advantages and disadvantages but both encourage community modified content.
Unreal Engine 3 was designed to harness new technology that greatly improved graphics, shaders and lighting. The Engine has been updated over the years to incorporate more technologies and features up until 2015. Unreal Engine 3 has been used to create a huge library of games including Bioshock Infinite, Borderlands, Outlast, Rocket League, Life is Strange, Batman Arkham Asylum, Mass Effect and more! Many large developers use this as their main engine to work with.
While the engine was hugely popular, a competitor may have been the Source Engine which was released in 2004. The Source Engine’s Graphics were not as good as UE3’s but by 2007 it had many different titles released with countless game modifications because of it’s community-oriented tools.
Unreal Engine 4 is the most recent version of the engine. It has countless new features, is free, is open source and easier to use than all previous versions. This engine is capable of rendering realistic models and lighting that is often mistaken for real photographs. The editor has a built-in “Blueprint” scripting system to allow designers or players to easily program custom game logic without much coding knowledge. UE4 can be used to create many different types of game, while its strong point is medium-scale first person games, you can create top-down games, sidescrollers, 2d games or anything you can program with Blueprint.
As with all other versions of Unreal Engine, it comes shipped with a shiny new Unreal Tournament. This time the game is released in an unfinished beta state with lots of community feedback, contributions and content. Playing the game at this stage makes you feel much more involved with the engine and development of the game.
One of the major advantages of using UE4 is that it is free. You can design, create and release your own game for sale without having to pay for the engine itself or any of the tools. Epic Games takes a small and fair cut of your earnings from the game in return for this huge part of games development already done for you.
Unreal Engine 4 is known for its amazing graphics. If done correctly you can make a scene that looks like a real-world place through clever use of shaders, reflections, textures and model details. There are some truly amazing things you can create in this engine utilising the graphics alone.
The Blueprint system allows for easy game development and custom gameplay without scripting knowledge, this is to create a more creative workspace so that you can focus on being creative instead of coding. Blueprint is easy to understand and is well-documented so you can research it easily.
The engine was built with modders and the community in mind, the entire engine is open source and completely customisable. Epic Games knows that this will be a good thing from their history of successful community creations and Unreal total-conversions/modifications. It encourages everyone to try game design and to make their ideas a reality, this does great things for the industry.
The asset store is another great feature of UE4. This allows modellers and texture artists to create assets separately and upload them to the asset store to sell to developers. This allows individuals to earn money from creating small but useful resources, and it also lets developers quickly obtain content they may need from a trusted source where they can safely purchase it. This allows for more opportunities for anyone in the industry.
The engine is officially supported on 6 platforms (PC, VR & consoles) while it’s direct competitor Unity 5 supports over 25 platforms including PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox, PS4, VR, Web, Mobile & TV.
Because it is constantly in development with it’s community ties, the engine can be unstable at times. Users have reported repeating crashes and errors while using the engine. Although Epic Games will usually ship a fix shortly after the problems occur.
The engine is not well optimised for large-scale games. While it does do very well at what it is designed for (medium-scale limited spaces), it cannot be used to create huge islands or worlds that can be played.
Unreal Engine 4 is a very advanced game engine. I think all of the strong advantages outweigh the weaker disadvantages that don’t seem that much of a problem. I already have experience in using this engine and have played several games using it which helps me familiarise myself with it. Epic Games certainly know what they are doing when it comes to creating a game engine as they have perfected it for nearly 20 years.
Their views and opinions on community generated content and modding are very accepting and open as they have always been, this is really great to see in a large company as I believe that the freedom to do this encourages creativity and exploration. The gaming industry would be a different place if Epic Games, id Software and Valve did not allow their games to be modified by players.