UDK Tutorials: Getting Started in the World of Video Game Design

UDK TutorialsHas this ever happened to you?  You’re walking along the street, or sitting in a boring class, or waiting for a traffic light to turn green, and you are struck with a brilliant idea for a video game.  This idea includes everything you already enjoy about gaming, and even adds in a few elements you always felt were missing.  It’s a truly great idea, but it can’t go anywhere.  Not without getting an entire team of writers, designers, producers, programmers and play testers together.  Then it’s still a matter of waiting years for the finished product.

What if none of that were true?  What if there was a program available which would let you design your ideal game on your own?  Sure, you’re thinking “This must cost a lot of money, right?  Or at least take forever to learn?”  Not at all!  There is a program out there which is not only free to use, but it is also totally optimized for ease of use, and beginner friendliness.  It’s called UDK, or Unreal Design Kit, and with this tutorial, you can start using it right now with this unreal development kit.

What is UDK?

You may have seen the acronym UDK around before, and never quite understood what it meant.  It stands for Unreal Development Kit, and it is the free version of the Unreal Engine – you might recognize that as the engine most of your favorite games utilize.  This is a robust and user friendly game design suite which can help you bring your gaming ideas to life on the screen.  It is coded in C++, meaning it is a versatile program with high portability.  Nearly everyone can use it.

Originally, this program was intended to allow users to tinker with level editing on all games release by Epic.  You can still use UDK to get into the code, and see what you can change around in the game mechanics.  You can take it much further than that though, and even get into full blown level design from the ground up.

While the program was originally released with the intention of letting users design first person shooters, the continual updates and add-ons provided by developers mean that this engine can be used to make almost any genre of game, in any setting you can imagine.  The only limits placed on the software are those of your imagination, and there are plenty of unique games which came about thanks to UDK.

What Can it Do?

Besides game development, UDK has many alternate uses.  Artists can take advantage of the program’s abilities to import textures, animation sequences and 3D models.  The real time environment allows you to see your work dynamically, and make changes and modifications based on the way your work presents in the program.  UDK also boasts the ability to allow for some great 3D rendering, as well as digital film making.

As for what it can do in terms of game design, your options are numerous.  You can create in-game animations, or “cinema” style cut scenes using the editing tools available.  You can get as creative and detailed as you want with the different fabrics and armor worn by your characters.  Some commercially available games advertise their “character creation” abilities wherein players can change hair and eye color, height, and costumes.  With UDK, you can custom design every last detail of your characters.  The landscapes they walk through and interact with are yours to create as well.  You can use existing templates, or create one from scratch.  This is a great opportunity for total creative license.

You can actually sell the games you create with UDK too.  There is some licensing to consider, naturally, but you may be surprised to hear how lenient Epic is about the use of their engine.  You can freely make up to $50,000 profit before you owe any royalties to Epic.  That alone may be enough motivation to get you started on that game you’ve had planned out for months now.

How Do I Get Started?

Like I mentioned earlier, UDK is optimized for first person shooter type games.  If the game you have in mind is an entirely different concept, you may want to consider a basics course in game level design to help get your bearings.  Sometimes, the tremendous amount of information and materials included with a program this big can be overwhelming and frustrating.  Like any specialized hobby, there is native terminology to get used to, and that can sometimes throw beginners for a loop.  Even with just a little guidance, you can get much more out of this amazing platform, and make it work for you.

Once you have the basics down, you may want to start by tweaking level design for some existing games to get a feel of what UDK can do.  Take scenes you are familiar with, and watch what happens when you begin to change the parameters.  This can give you a good idea of how you do and don’t want things to play out in your own design.

If you are already familiar with the basics of game design, jump right into the hardcore advanced stuff.  You can learn to take advantage of the cascade editor.  From here you can work on more intricate techniques like rendering realistic sparks, fire, water and smoke effects.  These are the background special effects that can so often go unnoticed, but that are so important to a realistic and immersive gaming experience.

Lastly, don’t get discouraged.  Talk to anyone in the world of game design, and they will tell you there is a learning curve.  Trial and error is a valuable learning tool, and making mistakes are part of the process.  Even multi-million dollar gaming companies go through extensive play testing before releasing a finished product, so understand that this is a process, and just have fun with it.

In the meantime, Udemy has lots of talented game developers in hand to show you some tips, tricks and secrets.  Check out these courses to learn more:
Building Foliage for Games using UDK
Advanced VFX and Cinematics for UDK