It feels like Unreal Engine has always been with us. From Unreal Tournament in 1999 to Final Fantasy VII Remake in 2020, this creation by Epic Games helps developers to bring their ideas to life for a third decade already. But, despite being arguably the most popular and stable game technology, Unreal Engine is not for everybody. Just like any other technological solution, it’s good and bad for something. Read on to figure out what is Unreal Engine today and does it fit your game.
The current version of Unreal Engine offers a set of technical tools for interacting with real-time technology. It gives everything required for the full cycle of game development, motion cinema creation, and VR content making.
Unreal Engine 4 is designed for the majority of gaming devices and platforms, including VR and AR.
Unreal Engine is famous for hundreds of games, including Gears of War franchise, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Rocket League, Dishonored, Fortnite, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Mirror’s Edge, BioShock series, Batman Arkham series, Life is Strange, Borderlands franchise and classics like Unreal Tournament, Star Wars Republic Commando, Brother in Arms franchise, and Deus Ex.
During 20+ years on the stage, Epic Games developed a solid toolset for Unreal Engine. It is capable of creating any visual and gaming content. Here are some basic features, available in Unreal Engine.
- Production pipelines integration
Unreal Engine allows connecting to media production pipelines, supporting FBX, USD, and Alembic. USD support enables developers to have a better collaboration with team members and hold performance in parallel. The engine supports USD file from anywhere on the disk, that allows avoiding a time-consuming full import, and record edits. Reloading the USD payload updates changes made by other team members upstream.
Unreal Engine supports Python Scripting in the Unreal Editor. Developers can integrate the engine into the pipeline and automate workflows. It’s also available to create asset management pipelines, automate data preparation workflows, procedurally layout content in a level, and create custom UIs.
- LiDAR point cloud support
Unreal Engine supports aggregating and using big-size datasets captured from the real world. Developers can import, visualize, edit, and interact with point clouds acquired from laser scanning devices in the engine.
- Unreal Editor
Unreal Editor is an integrated development environment available on Linux, macOS, and Windows. It supports multi-user editing, which helps artists, designers, and developers to make changes to the same project simultaneously.
- Assets optimization
Automatic LOD generation, jacketing, defeaturing and some other tools help Unreal Engine developers to optimize complicated models for better real-time performance. Read more about it in our article about Unreal Engine optimization tools.
- Mesh editing
Unreal Engine includes basic mesh editing tools to correct small problems in geometry without having to fix them in the source package and re-import.
- Scalable foliage
This feature helps to cover environments with various types of grass, flowers, small rocks, or your mesh of choice, as well as create vast forests filled with many different kinds of trees and brushes.
- Animation Blueprints
This is a specialized Blueprint that controls the animation of a Skeletal Mesh and allows creating and controlling complex animation behaviors.
- Character animation tools
UE helps to customize the character’s movement in any imaginable way. Features like state machines, blend spaces, forward and inverse kinematics, physics-driven animation for ragdoll effects, and the ability to preview animation on the fly make it easier to animate in UE.
- Take Recorder
This helps to record animations from motion capture linked to characters in the scene, and from Live Link data, for future playback which allows to quickly iterate on performance recordings, and easily review previous takes.
RENDERING, LIGHTING, AND MATERIALS
- Forward rendering
The Forward Shading Renderer makes the rendering process faster. Smoother baseline and faster rendering passes help to increase performance on VR projects and consoles with weaker hardware, like Nintendo Switch.
- Photoreal rasterizing and ray tracing in real-time
Unreal Engine’s physically-based rasterizer and ray tracer help to achieve a realistic quality of visuals. Selectively choose to ray trace reflections, shadows, translucency, ambient occlusion, image-based lighting, and global illumination, while continuing to rasterize other passes to get subtle, accurate effects at the performance you need. Effects include dynamic soft shadows from area lights and ray-traced light from HDRI skylights.
- Virtual Texturing
There are two methods of enabling support for big textures by splitting them into small tiles and only loading the visible ones. Runtime Virtual texturing makes rendering procedural and layered materials much faster. And Streaming Virtual Texturing reduces texture memory for lightmaps and detailed textures, crafted by artists.
- Advanced shading models
Make your objects and surfaces as realistic as your creative team can. Use advanced shading models like Lit, Unlit, Clear Coat, Subsurface Scattering, Skin, Hair, Two-Sided Foliage, and Thin Transparency to control how your Material will reflect incoming light.
- Post-process and screen-space effects
Unreal Engine offers a variety of tools for creating movie-like realistic scenes, like HDR bloom, tone mapping, lens flare, depth of field, chromatic aberration, vignetting, and automatic exposure.
- Access to C++ source code
With free access to the complete C++ source code, you can study, customize, extend, and debug the entire Unreal Engine, and complete your project without obstruction. Our source code repository on GitHub is continually updated as we develop features in our own mainline, so you don’t even have to wait for the next product release to get your hands on the very latest code.
- C++ API
Add the functionality you need to the Unreal Engine via robust C++ API. Use Blueprints to empower your game designers with the ability to create custom gameplay solutions or interactions between building blocks. Test your progress without closing Unreal Editor via Live Coding compiling.
- Profiling and performance
Unreal Engine includes a large number of tools to help you profile, analyze, and optimize your project for real-time performance by identifying and removing bottlenecks. The most recent addition is the Unreal Insights system that collects, analyzes, and visualizes data on UE4 behavior, helping you understand engine performance either live or from pre-recorded sessions.
- Industry-specific templates
To help you find the right starting point for your project and achieve your intended result in the shortest possible time, Unreal Engine enables you to choose from a variety of useful templates, including ones for collaborative multi-user design reviews on desktop and VR devices, studio lighting with an HDRI backdrop for product design, and highly realistic sun and sky environments for architectural visualization.
- Marketplace ecosystem
The Unreal Engine Marketplace has thousands of high-quality assets and plugins to accelerate production and bring new functionality to your work. Access new environments, characters, animations, textures, props, sound and visual effects, music tracks, Blueprints, middleware integration plugins, add-on tools, and full starter kits. Millions of dollars' worth of content is freely available in the Marketplace, with even more content available for purchase.
- Sample projects
Explore, adapt, and learn from over 20 sample projects included with Unreal Engine. From photorealistic digital humans, to virtual studios for live broadcast, to Pixel Streaming your car configurator to a remote device, you’ll find a range of samples that will help you get to speed for your own projects in less time.
GAMEPLAY AND INTERACTIVITY
Give AI-controlled characters increased spatial awareness of the world around them and enable them to make smarter movements with Unreal Engine’s gameplay framework and artificial intelligence system, controlled through either Blueprints or Behavior Trees. Dynamic navigation mesh updates in real-time as you move objects for optimal pathing at all times.
- Blueprint visual scripting system
With designer-friendly Blueprint visual scripting, you can rapidly prototype and ship interactive content without touching a line of code. Use Blueprints to build object behaviors and interactions, modify user interfaces, adjust input controls, and so much more. Visualize gameplay flow and inspect properties while testing your work using the powerful built-in debugger.
- Variant Manager
With the Variant Manager, you can create and edit variants of your asset that include options for visibility, transforms, and material assignments, and activate or deactivate them in the Unreal Editor or at runtime. This is ideal for design reviews and marketing of configurable products, such as a commercial aircraft that can have different cabin layouts, furnishing, and fittings. Automated generation of variants is possible through a Python API.
This license is free to use; a 5% royalty is due only when you monetize your game or other interactive off-the-shelf product and your gross revenues from that product exceed $1,000,000 USD. The 5% royalty is calculated on the amount over and above the first $1M in gross revenue.
Here, at Pingle Studio, we consider Unreal Engine as our main game creation technology. After 14 years with Unreal Engine, we see how it evolves and there is no reason to expect its failure anywhere in the nearest future. We believe Unreal Engine will become only more and more important for the industry.
Want to jump on a game-making train with us and Unreal Engine? Contact our expert and let’s do it!