The presentation of the Unreal Engine 3 in 2004 heralded an age of unprecedented world-building potential for gaming. Eight years later, it seems we are finally reaching the limits of UE3s capabilities. Combine this with what we know is coming in the future, with Microsoft’s Xbox 720 rumored to be rocking AMD’s 7000 series graphics and Sony’s PS4 hosting AMD’s HD 7670, and the time feels ripe for a truly “Godlike” engine to put this new hardware through its paces.
Unreal Engine 3: A Reign of Terror
“I would say the third generation Unreal engine is even more wide open [than the second generation engine]. You could make an RTS, an action-adventure, first person shooter, third person shooter. Now we have the general purpose shaders system that you can pretty much not just stylize the materials on people, on characters and objects, but you can actually stylize the whole look and feel of the game very easily. You can easily make a gritty Film Noir feeling, or something that’s really bright and colorful or cell shaded with not a lot of extra work.” Epic’s Mark Rein in an interview with Eurogamer 2004
UE3 is a fantastic tool that allows you to put your ideas, mythology, look and feel into a working game without sitting there for months on end editing every color option and character model difference. The engine itself has been included in more than a dozen franchises’ work (2k Games, 3D Realms, Midway, Sega, Sony, Square Enix, THQ and many more) as well as Epic’s in-house created games (Unreal Tournament 3, Gears of War, Bulletstorm, and Mortal Kombat IX).
Over the years more platforms for which games could be designed were released, so Epic kept up with the times allowing “dumb-downed” versions to be used with everything from consoles like the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 to a handheld sporting Android OS or iOS. A free version of the engine, Unreal Development Kit, was released for modders and developers alike to use. UDK could be used for free with the exception that if money was to be made, Epic rightfully got their share. UE3 also had its own special little 30watt spotlight outside of the gaming community. The engine was used in the children’s TV show Lazytown to create virtual sets for real-time integration of puppets and actors performing in front of green screens. In March 2012, UDK was licensed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for use in a simulator for training.
With its potential already widely known and UDK out for the world to experiment with, a new realm has opened; and with it comes the Unreal Engine 4.
The New and Improved
The details presented in the video are incredible. From what I’ve gathered, the tools are easier to use than ever, and the ability to come up with a very natural-looking environment has been simplified.Mastery over such details as lighting and shadow is only ever a few clicks or keystrokes away, as easy as dropping a sun in on the world.
For you devs out there, the following are some features you will find within the engine to improve your time spent editing. For starters, they introduced Instant Game Preview.
It gives you the ability to spawn a player anywhere in the game (after an update has been made) and test without waiting for files to save. This obviously saves time in game development, but also in the cost of paying devs, powering equipment, etc. This also gives indie or startup devs who can’t afford to pay a hundred professional coders, the time to debug by themselves.
While this is helpful, another tool Simulate Mode, does even more. You can quickly debug and update gameplay behaviors, run game logic in the editor viewport and inspect AI as the game characters perform actions.
With everything UE3 brought and the features we have been allowed to witness in action of the UE4, one could only hope for the best. Games are already in development and are expected to be released the second half of 2013. While neither Microsoft nor Sony has announced their next-gen consoles, and the Wii U’s hardware capabilities seeming to be an unlikely host of the software created with UE4, we are left to look to the PC for a taste of the engine’s greatness. No title has been announced yet. I am very excited for what this will bring us, but only time will tell. To all those devs out there, good luck and I’m excited for what you can bring to the public.