This year heralded the release of Unreal engine 4, made by Epic Games.
If you are just getting into the games industry this may not seem like a big deal, Take Autodesk for example they update every year (this is a discussion in itself) and wasn’t there Unreal Engine 3 and Unreal Development Kit just before this?
Well yes, yes there was. But let’s cast our minds eye to the past and take on board a few things. Things are always worth knowing.
A little history:
UE3 – Came out in 2004 and while it has been updated throughout this ten year period these have all been under the UE3 badge.
Note: If you are unfamiliar with software development of any type it’s a standard practice to release a major version and update it while the next major release is being developed. Much in the same way a games console will stay in it’s current generation for 4-10 years or so but may undergo minor updates while the next console is being planned.
Prominence in the gaming world
From unreal versions 1-3 Epic games has enjoyed being at the forefront of AAA game development. With popular games on most consoles and PC the unreal splash screen became a familiar site for many.
Licensing for these previous versions where limited to high end studios with triple A budgets. I don’t have exact figures on UE3 licensing but you can assume an indie studio would not be able to afford access.
The thing to understand though is that pre-2007 there was no need for Epic Games to even consider another licensing model. Consider that if Epic had opened it’s doors in the early 2000’s who would have used it? sure there have always been indies and occasionally there was a hit game but it’s only in the last 7 years that indie studios have been viable on a large scale.
UE4 was always going to be developed. But it most likely was not always going to be for general use.
so what changed?
Rise of the indie market.
In 2007 the Iphone was released and with it the app store.
IOS was the driving force in bringing mobile gaming into our daily lives, what ever else we may think of Apple they are game changers.
The boom of mobile gaming saw the rise of the Indies (I love that line, so do these guys). This is a continuing trend that currently shows no signs of slowing down.
For many this was the chance they had been waiting for. A chance to make games they wanted to, either to share there vision or to simply be able to form their own studio.
This is a great thing to be able to do on both counts.
Response from Epic games.
Epic games observed this emerging market of amazing game developers producing hit after hit, at the time they where unwilling to de-value and risk there current licensing deals so what could they do?
In 2009 Epic games released the Unreal Development Kit (UDK)
UDK was and is free (although it is currently being phased out) for development use for anybody, with royalties being due if/when a game made a certain amount.
UDK had plenty of power for developing. It also had some imposed limitations, lets summarize a few points:
- No source access.
- Has “Kismet”, a basic (when compared to UE4 or playmaker for Unity) visual scripting implementation.
- Scripting must be done through UDK’s unique “unrealScript”.
- Some heavy features such as multithreading were limited.
- Wicked networking ability
- Unreal Tournament was the base for everything
- Node based material editor
UDK was a great way for Epic to gauge the game dev communities interest in their engine. The interest was there but it just didn’t feel quite right, the community wanted/needed different licensing and an open communication with the Epic development team.
Keep in mind UDK is not UE3, UE3 did not have these limitations. Although i’m pretty sure it also didn’t have Kismet.
Wow ok enough history – Unreal engine 4 release
I remember reading the news, sitting in a coffee shop waiting to visit a high school to take a workshop in Unity, ah Unity… that is a talk for another time.
Opened up the laptop and boom:
So Unreal Engine 4 had no release date, none at all. We knew it was being developed but had no idea when it might come out.
The guys at Space Dust Studios have a great write up here of the UE4 announcement at GDC (as well as a comparison to Unity).
What is working with UE4 like and how does it differ to UDK?
Blows it away in every respect, but then you would hope that’s the case.
- Source access – full access to the the c++ source
- Blueprints – Fully functional visual scripting system, so good
- Support, both from the devs and the community
- Openness of the devs, check out the UE4 road map here and the blog post about it here
- Market place – sleek interface that will allow 3rd party content to be sold to developers (currently not active for 3rd parties but is in use by Epic to share example projects).
- Templates – these are great, want to start in a flying space ship using only Blueprints? sure thing!
- Example projects – these are often fully fleshed out game worlds
- Content example project – this one is worth pulling aside from the standard example projects as it’s an amazing resource in itself
What blew me away is that this is all part of very reasonable license agreement, this looked so good that I had to did some thorough checking before getting carried away, and then I get really excited.
The licensing was all of a sudden friendly to indies and also educational institutes.
- An indie studio can pay $20 per per seat. At this time they can cancel the subscription and continue to use the engine, opting back in at any time is fine.
- An academic institute will only have to pay $20 a month or a year using the above method for the entire campus. This is fantastic for all institutes and is a good sign Epic is keen on students getting familiar with the engine.
For more about the licensing please visit the source here.
UE4 is a fantastic engine and I’m enjoying working with it.
This post is getting pretty big, I’ll leave it here and post in the future with a more in depth break down of UE4 on it’s own. May even do a tutorial or two on using the engine.
While I do want to talk about comparisons of game engines as well i’ll leave the fun for another post.
Disclaimer: Any references to decision making by any party is pure speculation on my part, informed though it is.