What is a Game Engine?
A game engine is the software that developers use to make video games both big and small. Learning how to use these game engines is one of the first steps every game designer must go through to create a successful game.
Made by game developers, for game developers, this high-end game engine is no longer just for million-dollar studios. Game designers of all skill levels now have the opportunity to put their ideas into an epic game of their own.
Here are just a few reasons why Unreal Engine is the perfect engine for beginners looking to develop an awesome game.
Why Unreal Engine is Great for Beginners
1. Real-Time Game Preview
For years, the process of developing a game was slow and, at times, cumbersome. After placing objects within the engine, you had to go through rendering and building times to see what the game would look like with lighting and code compiled.
With Unreal Engine, you can see lighting effects change and update as you work in real time! Not only will this feature drastically speed up game production, but it will also change how quickly you can develop working prototypes of games to see if your ideas work. In addition to this real-time game preview, you can also instantly spawn a character within the game without needing to save your progress.
[caption id="attachment_85640" align="aligncenter" width="600"] In this Unreal Engine image, everything you see is visible in real time, eliminating the need for lengthy rendering times.[/caption]
2. Drag-and-Drop Visual Programming
Programming will always be an essential part of game development, but for someone just getting started, you may not have a lot of programming experience.
Unreal Engine makes use of a revolutionary new drag-and-drop programming system called Blueprint Visual Scripting. Without having to write a single line of code, game designers can create all aspects of their game such as health systems, respawns, player movement, and more—directly from Blueprints. This new system is just as powerful as traditional programming methods, and it is usable even by people who have little-to-no idea how game programming works. (And for those who don't have much of an idea, check out our game programming course.)
Color-coded nodes help the user quickly piece together events that will work together to run different events within the game.
[caption id="attachment_85639" align="aligncenter" width="600"] This is an example of what a blueprint looks like. In this case, the blueprint is an event to clear a board game table with sound effects.[/caption]
3. Full Access to the Source Code
Even though Unreal Engine has a brand new visual scripting language, you may still need to use some traditional programming to bring your game to life. With the release of Unreal Engine, Epic Games also released the full source code for the entire engine. This code, which is written in C++, is freely available from Github. Users can learn from, edit, and expand upon this code to create their own tools and have complete control over the engine they are working in.
It’s pretty uncommon for a company to release the files that make their product work, but this just shows that Epic Games is committed to making sure game developers have all the tools they need to create what they want to make without being held back.
[caption id="attachment_85641" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Example of C++ code used in Epic's Shooter Game example. This section of code is for a character to pick up health.[/caption]
4. Easy to Develop for Mobile
Unreal Engine is known for its stunning photo realism and over-the-top graphics. With the latest version of this incredible game development suite, Epic Games has also heavily invested in making sure the engine is fully capable of developing on mobile platforms.
Epic Games has taken a few unique approaches to minimize the requirements to get their high-end games onto low-end devices. One method uses Blueprints to automatically adjust the quality of a material depending on the type of device the game is being played on. Another great feature is the ability to quickly package a game and test it on a mobile device right away. You don’t need to wait hours for it to compile and load.
This feature is extremely helpful for testing touch and gyro controls (when you twist your mobile device to affect a change) that are unique to tablets and smartphones.
[caption id="attachment_85642" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Epic Games created "Memory" entirely with Blueprints, and it's mobile-friendly.[/caption]
5. Pushing the Virtual Reality Movement
Virtual Reality is quickly becoming the hottest thing in both gaming and tech—it was all over the place at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) last year.
With the ability to create hyper-realistic environments, Unreal Engine is able to create immersive worlds that cater to the Virtual Reality Experience. Unreal Engine features tools that create complex cinematics, allowing game developers to explore new ways to deliver a story. How cool would it be to watch a movie and be able to look around a scene as everything is happening in real time? Make it a reality by developing with Unreal Engine.
[caption id="attachment_85643" align="aligncenter" width="600"] I demoed a new virtual reality (VR) device at GDC 2015. This one uses a phone as the screen.[/caption]
6. A Dedicated Community
Finding an answer to a problem when working within a game engine is not always easy. Luckily, Unreal Engine features the best community in game development. Epic Games has done a great job of keeping all information about the tool both accessible and easy to find. As a new user, you can review extensive documentation to find out just how to make whatever you’ve dreamed up.
Epic Games also created an environment to help educate their users through forums, an extensive video library, and a support page full of answers to user questions, called AnswerHub. The forums are a hotspot where Epic Games employees (along with other game developers) offer suggestions, answer questions, and hold fun contests. The forum is also a great place to show off what you have been working on or see what others have been doing with Unreal Engine. Talk about inspiration!
[caption id="attachment_85638" align="aligncenter" width="600"] On the AnswerHub page, aspiring game designers can search for questions and answers that might assist with their own design needs.[/caption]
7. Thousands of Assets and Examples on the Marketplace
As you begin to learn about level design, you will want some awesome-looking assets to put into your game. The marketplace is where you will find anything that can go into Unreal Engine, including custom environmental assets such as special sci-fi pieces, pirate ships, and more.
While some of these cost money, Epic has produced a large amount of high-quality, free assets for you to download. The best part is that these assets can be used in any game you plan on publishing. Within the marketplace, you will also find example content that you can open in order to learn how Epic had created that level or game.
[caption id="attachment_85645" align="aligncenter" width="600"] These are just a few of the content packs that can be found on Epic Games' Marketplace.[/caption]
8. Unreal Engine 4 is Free
Yes, you read that correctly. Epic Games is now offering Unreal Engine to game developers for free, including all future updates, as long as you agree to pay a "5% royalty on gross revenue after the first $3,000 per product, per quarter."
Discover Unreal Engine This Summer at iD Tech
Epic Games' Unreal Engine has proved to be an excellent game development tool, which is why we feature the software in many of our game design and development courses for teens.
If you're interested in learning how you can use the Unreal Engine suite of game development products to create an awesome video game, we recommend you check out the following courses:
Level Design and Cinematics with Unreal: iD Tech Camps, Ages 13-17
Programming Game Mechanics with Unreal, iD Tech Camps, Ages 13-17
Game Design & Development 101, iD Tech Camps, Ages 13-17
C++ Coder and Gameplay Programmer, iD Game Design & Development Academy, Ages 13-18
Level Designer and VR Developer, iD Game Design & Development Academy, Ages 13-18
3D Modeler and Environment Artist, iD Game Design & Development Academy, Ages 13-18
Main Paragon image courtesy of Epic Games, Inc.