Game engines are the driving force behind the latest and greatest video games released every year. While many developers have specific preferences and rely on proprietary game engines, many turn to commercial game engines as a way to create powerful three-dimensional games without having to reinvent the wheel.
Originally developed in 1998 by Epic Games, the Unreal Engine is one of the most powerful and successful game engines today. Although the Unreal Engine was primarily developed for first-person shooter games, it has been successfully used in many other genres including many popular Role Playing Games (RPGs). More recently, Epic Games has released a free version of the game engine known as the Unreal Development Kit (UDK). You can learn more about creating your own stunning game levels using the UDK in the Unreal Development Kit Level Dressing – Essential Skills course.
If you are interested in creating some of the best video games imaginable, you need to be using the Unreal Engine. In this article, you will find some of the key features that make Unreal the game engine of choice for professional developers around the world.
Unreal was one of the first animation systems to use a skeletal animation technique that gives you full control over every detail, every muscle, and every bone. You can literally control the facial features of your game characters using this powerful animation system. Even better, there are absolutely no restrictions on the number of animations playing at the same time – an important feature not found on many other game engines. The only restriction is the video card in your target machine.
You can learn more about leveraging the power of this animation system in the Animation and Matinee in UDK course.
If your game needs fire, smoke, dust or rain, the Unreal Engine makes it happen using Unreal Cascade, a powerful particle effects system.
Cascade allows you to create effects for weapons, explosions and environments using a proven production method. The system allows you to layer emitters to build complex particle systems that provide a level of realism not typically found in even the most advanced 3-D games.
The Complete Cascade Beginners Guide teaches you how to create stunning particle effects using the Unreal Cascade system.
Unreal Engine also provides a unique set of tools to create completely destructible environments. You can spend hours creating a visually stunning world only to let your players crush it to pieces using Unreal’s fracturing tool. The game engine supports the destruction of everything from metal to cloth bringing a level of realism and interaction to the game environment that has not been possible before now.
You can learn more about using the fracturing tool to create mayhem in your game environments in the Dynamic Destruction in UDK course.
Real World Physics
Unreal Engine uses the Nvidia PhysX physics modeling engine. It provides unparalleled control over your character’s movement and simulates fluids very realistically. The game engine comes complete with a visual modeling tool known as Unreal PhAT. Even character clothing can be brought to life using ambient cloth effects thanks to Nvidia’s APEX Clothing tool.
Basically, if you can dream it up, you can make it happen using Unreal Engine. Better yet, you can make it look real even if it violates real-world laws of physics.
Unreal Rendering System
All of these graphics capabilities would be wasted if Unreal didn’t provide one of the most powerful rendering systems available in any game engine. Known as Gemini, the multithreaded rendering system provides you with a full 64 bit High Dynamic Range (HDR) rendering pipeline.
The game engine supports all modern lighting and rendering techniques including virtual displacement mapping, pre-computed shadow masks and directional light maps among others.
Increasingly important in realistic 3-D games is the ability of AI controlled characters to move throughout the game environment intelligently. Unreal Engine supports the use of navigational meshes that provide AI controlled characters with increased spatial awareness and gives them the appearance of true artificial intelligence.
Fortunately, these improvements in AI do not present significant performance overhead issues as the navigational mesh implementation is specifically designed to optimize performance and memory usage in all game scenarios. Compared to traditional node-based navigation systems, the performance gains achieved using these navigational meshes are significant.
The Unreal Engine has been awarded the Best Game Engine award for over five consecutive years. In addition to the important features mentioned above, there are countless other new features that have been introduced and the fact that the Unreal Development Kit can now be downloaded for free makes this almost a “no-brainer” option when selecting a game engine for your next development project.
Keep in mind that although the UDK is free, developers who sell their games are required to pay Epic Games a 25% royalty on all profits for games that exceed $50,000 in revenue. Obviously, this is not ideal but since you don’t have to pay for licensing in advance, it’s a trade-off that most game developers are willing to live with. This is especially true when you take into account all of the unique features that make the Unreal Engine the best game development engine of 2013.
Regardless of how you feel about the royalty requirement, there is no way to dispute the shear game development power contained within the UDK. Add to that the ability to export your game to any popular platform from Android to iOS to XBOX and you have a solution that is capable of creating the absolute best video games of 2014 and beyond.