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We’re publishing our last third part in a series of articles from the famous level designer Sjoerd De Jong (Hourences). In this last post the author looks at the history of Unreal Engine and underlines the changes in the most recent version of the engine.
Unreal Engine Evolution
Unreal Engine is the kind of tool that was available for game developers for a while now. I’ve had a lot of experience of working with Unreal tech for almost 15 years. Even all the way back in the beginning the Unreal Engine had tools that were well ahead of its time. When other engines barely had support for proper colored lighting yet, the Unreal Engine had that + real time lighting + visible lighting in the editor already.
And that approach to the tools really continued throughout the years. The Unreal Engine has had a terrain editor since about 2002, and a fully featured node based material editor and visual scripting since around 2005 or 2006 already for example, while a lot of other engines out there nowadays don’t even has that functionality yet in 2015. That says a lot I think.
UE4 is sort of a big jump in this evolution. It took all of this many steps further. While the visual scripting in UE3 was powerful and well ahead of its time back then, it ultimately didn’t allow enough. So in UE4 I think by far the biggest and most groundbreaking addition is Blueprint system. It is a very powerful visual scripting system that is deeply embedded into the core of the engine, and basically allows you to do almost anything anywhere, all visually.
It is not only a very nice tool to work with, the fact that it is so deeply integrated into the rest of the engine really makes a difference. It is tied and can communicate with every other tool in the engine. If you want to make a menu for example, even the UI tool will handle things in Blueprint.
I also love the UE4 renderer. While it has a couple of limitations that are still being worked on and that I’d love to see resolved, for example correct shading on translucent surfaces, overall it is very easy to get stuff to look good, and it still runs well also. For example The Solus Project (TSP) runs at about 90 fps for me at 1920×1080, with tons of details in view. Each of my rocks is 3000 to 4000 triangles, and I haven’t done all that much in terms of optimization. It just runs!
That being said, to me personally the renderer is not the most important thing. Pretty graphics are awesome, but without good tools you’d never be able to make pretty graphics in the first place, so once again, the tools are absolute key for me for the whole experience!
Should you know Programming to work with Unreal?
The funny thing is that you can actually work with Unreal Engine 4 without programming skills. It is possible, although there will be some limitations of course. There is a difference between making a MMORPG and a singleplayer puzzle game for example in terms of complexity, but a game like TSP is certainly doable without C++. That said, if you are serious about making a solid UE4 game it is advised to do part of it in C++ though, as it will streamline the development process.
In TSP we have a considerable amount of C++ underneath all of the Blueprint we have, but during our prototype stage we had the entire game up and running with nothing but Blueprint scripting.
Level design wise it is the best tool out there. The Unreal Engine has always had a very strong focus on level design, see the Unreal Tournament level design community for example. Making levels with UE4 is joy and I’m glad that developers everywhere can get access to this fantastic set of tools.
Interesting Posts About The Evolution of Unreal Engine
- A great video on UE visual development from the UE1 to the latest UE4.
- IGN’s look at UE History. A little dated but still worth a read.
- A very detailed Wikipedia Article that gives a wonderful look at the growth of UE.