Gamers in the 1990s remember the names of John Carmack and Tim Sweeney, the programmers who actually defined what modern games look like. But if Carmack has been away from id Software for a long time and has not been involved in id Tech, Sweeney is still preening the Unreal Engine. The future of video games is undoubtedly closely tied to UE5. And if photorealistic graphics were still subdued by UE4, what will surprise UE5 on PC and nextgen? Let’s figure it out in a new article.
Unreal Engine History: From Unreal to Gears of War
Unreal (1998) came out two years after Quake, the first fully 3D shooter. The game was based on the Unreal Engine. It was written by Tim Sweeney, founder and head of Epic Games. Sweeney is now known for the Epic Store giveaways and Apple’s lawsuit. And now, and at the dawn of his career, Sweeney programs the engine independently. The billions of dollars he has earned from Fortnite and his venerable age (50 years old) do not bother him in the least.
What surprised the first version of Unreal Engine? Unreal was amazed by the beautiful sky, clear water, cunning artificial intelligence. I was delighted with the dynamic change of music – composers took care of variations of themes for different situations. The textures weren’t terrifying when approached. You can also remember portals and mirror reflections.
There were also problems. So, the engine interacted with the Glide renderer on 3dfx video cards without any complaints. With OpenGL and Direct3D – alas, no. The shooter Unreal was appreciated for its graphics, but it performed poorly on low to medium computers.
Epic fixed the flaws in Unreal Tournament (1999) and at the same time combed the network code, otherwise no one would play in the multiplayer FPS. By the way, UT99 is based on UE1.5 – an intermediate version of the engine. Subsequently, the release of such iterations with minor edits (with support for better textures and the latest technologies) became the norm for the American studio.
UE was conceived as a licensing product. Sweeney built in the handy UnrealEd editor and the UnrealScript programming language. He abandoned UnrealScript only for the release of UE4.
Indeed, Unreal Engine was bought by large companies. In 2000, Deus Ex and Rune saw the light of day, both grown on UE. Today UE is licensed for dozens of projects, but in the 1990s and 2000s, developers often wrote the engine for a specific game themselves, there were no universal tools on the market. The UE tried to present itself as universal. It was presented as a multi-platform technology and even allowed for cross-platform multiplayer.
UE2 is remembered for Unreal Tournament 2003 (2002), Splinter Cell (2002), Postal 2 (2003) and other games. Among its innovations are support for VoIP (voice communication in multiplayer matches), good transport physics (remember the Onslaught mode in Unreal Tournament 2004?), Skeletal animation and, of course, the Karma physics engine. He guaranteed that the body of the enemy after being hit would fly off spectacularly, in the manner of a rag doll.
Unreal Tournament 2004
With UE2, the changes made their way not only to computers, but also to the console. So, Unreal Championship (2002) went down in history as one of the first console games that received a patch on the Internet.
UE3 is already closer to modern times. As you know, the transition from the sixth to the seventh generation of consoles was accompanied by a giant leap in terms of graphics quality. The third Unreal Engine took part in the revolution, acting as the “heart” of Gears of War (2006), Mass Effect (2007), Borderlands (2009).
Gears of War
To UE3 in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (2008) appealed by Ed Boone. You will be surprised, but the recent Mortal Kombat 11 also uses UE3, albeit seriously rewritten by NetherRealm Studios programmers over the years!
UE3 mention the pixel-by-pixel calculation of lighting and shadows, support for vegetation generation technology SpeedTree and DirectX 10-11, plausible crowd simulation. Karma is replaced by NVIDIA PhysX. Among the shortcomings, we note the sometimes slow loading of textures.
UE3 has expanded the list of familiar platforms. He left the PCs and consoles and settled on iOS and Android, take the infamous Infinity Blade (2010). Independent developers willingly sat down behind the engine – as a result, we have, for example, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (2014) and Life Is Strange (2015).
Life Is Strange
The popularity of the engine on the indie scene was facilitated by the appearance in 2009 of a free version called the Unreal Development Kit. It was allowed to tinker with the UDK for free, and on condition of a $ 99 payment, it was also allowed to sell games. It was necessary to transfer royalties in favor of Epic only when the project’s profit exceeded $ 50 thousand.
Features of Unreal Engine 4
UE4 set sail in 2014. You’ve probably come across fighting games on this engine (Tekken 7, Street Fighter V), slashers (Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice), strategies (Battlefleet Gothic: Armada), platformers (Yoshi’s Crafted World, Psychonauts 2), RPG (Vampyr, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Kingdom Hearts 3), shooters (PUBG, STALKER 2: Heart of Chernobyl) … The range of genres is wide, the number of projects is hard to count. In large-budget development, UE4 has practically become synonymous with the concept of “game engine”.
Activation key Vampyr (Xbox ONE) 2 849 *
In it, Epic finally brackets its own programming language, UnrealScript. You can create games in UE4 either in C ++, or using a visual programming tool – the so-called “blueprints”, they are also “blueprints”. In theory, they allow you to do without code altogether.
Unreal Engine 4
Epic has changed its distribution model for UE4 several times during its existence. Since 2020, developers have been using the engine for free and only begin to share income with Epic when the project’s profit exceeds the $ 1 million mark. You can download UE4 from the Epic Store.
The technology, invented by Tim Sweeney, has stepped outside the gaming industry. In 2023, for example, the premiere of the cartoon Gilgamesh from the Argentinean director Thomas Lipgot is scheduled. The film about the hero of Ancient Mesopotamia is notable for the fact that it was entirely filmed in the Unreal Engine software environment.
Unreal Engine и Unity
UE has only one decent contender right now – Unity. It has been improved by Unity Technologies since 2005. Basically, the engine is widespread in the mobile sector (Pokemon Go, Monument Valley, Hearthstone), but there are also high-profile games for PC and consoles: Firewatch, Inside, domestic Escape from Tarkov and Mor. Matching UE, Unity is a multi-platform tool.
UE4, as we said, is free until you earn your first million dollars. A Unity license can be free if your studio’s turnover is no more than $ 100,000 per year. Otherwise, you need to subscribe.
UE4 is open source. Unity Technologies did not dare to be so generous.
The Unreal Marketplace has plenty of free materials to create games. The store with models and content for a competing engine is called the Unity Asset Store. There are also free assets here, but they are often criticized for low quality.
In the case of UE4, you can choose between C ++ and blueprints. At Unity, the programming language is C #, and the Playmaker tool serves as an analogue of “blueprints”, but you will have to buy it separately.
Unity is praised for its low barriers to entry and an abundance of learning materials on the web. UE4 is more difficult to master, but many functions work out of the box.
As a result, it is impossible to say unequivocally which of the engines is better. Historically, UE4 is usually used for AAA games, Unity for mobile and indie projects.
What’s new in Unreal Engine 5
The first show of UE5 took place in May 2020. Among the two main features of the Epic engine are Nanite and Lumen. Both developers and gamers will benefit from both.
When describing Nanite, Epic brings up the definitions of “virtualized geometry” and “micro-polygon rendering”. What does it mean? Developers will now be able to load high-quality, cinematic models from millions of polygons into the engine. Subsequently, they will not have to be artificially “spoiled”, degrade the detail, so that the engine can display all this beauty on the screen with an acceptable frame rate.
Lumen in the Land of Nanite
On the contrary, thanks to Nanite, there is no need to make compromises. There is no need to think, among other things, about setting LOD (level of detail) – the levels of detail of models for different situations. Previously, in order to save resources, developers made, for example, one version of the model for a short distance, the second for an average, and a third for a long distance. But Nanite in UE5 renders an image at the rate of polygon per pixel of the display, that is, the higher the resolution, the clearer the picture. It doesn’t matter whether you are face to face with a character or a hundred meters from him, the number of polygons in the model will not decrease. There is one “but”: sometimes the number of objects in the frame goes off scale, and then you have to use a trick with dynamic (variable depending on the load) resolution.