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Introduction to Unreal Technology

If you’re playing a really hot game like Gears of War 2 or BioShock, you're using the Unreal Engine 3 game engine. You can create your own games using Unreal Engine 3. You just have to know how. In this chapter, get a quick nano-history of the Unreal Engine, then a copter’s eye view of its components and how they fit together.
This chapter is from the book

OK, life’s as it should be: You’re playing a game. Xbox 360, PS3, PC, whatever. Stop, think. What’s throwing that character up there on the screen? What’s making that explosion look, sound, act like that? What’s moving you from one room, one world, one level to the next? What’s controlling how that game reacts to you? What’s bossing around all your fancy hardware, making it jump through hoops? What makes it all so real?

A game engine, that’s what. And if you’re playing something really hot—like, say, Gears of War 2 or BioShock—that engine is Unreal Engine 3.

You, yes, you can make Unreal Engine 3 jump through hoops in your games, your levels. You just have to know how. That’ll take a little work—but, hey, you’ve already started. In this chapter, we give you a quick nano-history of the Unreal Engine, then a copter’s eye view of its components and how they fit together to do stuff that’s—hey, we apologize, but it’s a fact—absolutely unreal.

History of Unreal

Neither Rome nor the Unreal Engine was built in a day. Took the centurions and senators centuries to get Rome running right. Took the good folks at Epic Games barely a decade to create the Unreal Engine and transform it into the world’s most incredible game engine. How’d Epic get from there to here? Here’s a quick timeline...

June 1998: Unreal

Remember Unreal (see FIGURE 1.1)? Hey, you’re dating yourself. It hit the big time way back in the summer of 1998. (Along with Monica Lewinsky, Mark McGwire, dotcoms, ’N Sync...) But, hey, compared to all that stuff, Unreal was unforgettable. Engrossing story, incredible graphics, lush environments—including some of the best 3D outdoor landscapes ever seen in gaming. And that’s just the single-player game; Unreal also gave you the chance to take on artificially intelligent “bots”: players controlled by the computer.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1 The original Unreal was a landmark in 3D gaming.

That’s the stuff most gamers saw—but, just underneath the surface, something even more remarkable was happening: the birth of the Unreal Engine. Epic Games wasn’t just creating a game: It was creating a modular set of programs and tools for building and customizing practically any game.

The Unreal Engine gave Epic Games—and other companies who licensed it—a gigantic head start. Suddenly, there was no need to re-create everything from scratch. You could combine the Unreal Engine with your own content, tweaking its behavior however you wanted. The result: You could get from idea to state-of-the-art game a whole lot faster. And once you’d delivered your game, you could port it to other kinds of hardware faster, because the Unreal Engine managed many of the differences between gaming platforms for you.

But there was even more. The Unreal Engine also paved the way for mod makers. Its UnrealScript made it easier than ever to take existing games to a whole new level. (Literally.)

November 1999: Unreal Tournament

Unreal was great, Unreal Tournament was positively mindblowing. First intended as an expansion pack for the first Unreal game (and fully compatible with Unreal’s maps), Unreal Tournament supercharged Unreal’s multiplayer features (see FIGURE 1.2). Transforming the concept of “death match” into a series of spectator sports, Unreal Tournament wowed players with incredible online play, plus some of the most advanced bot artificial intelligence (AI) that gamers had ever seen. They could see Unreal Tournament in a lot more places, too; in addition to PC and Mac, it was also ported to PlayStation 2, as well as the late, somewhat lamented Sega Dreamcast console.

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2 Unreal Tournament was eventually ported to several different platforms.

March–July 2001: The Unreal Developer Network

By 2001, thousands of game developers and modders were hard at work with the Unreal Engine. In response, Epic Games launched The Unreal Developer Network—commonly called “UDN”—a central location where the users of the Unreal Engine, from licensees to mod makers, could find up-to-date documentation and tutorials for making the most of Unreal Engine (see FIGURE 1.3). To this day, the site—udn.epicgames.com—remains the most respected online source for knowledge about Unreal Engine development.

Figure 1.3

Figure 1.3 UDN is still the largest single source of Unreal Technology information.

September 2002: Unreal Championship and Unreal Tournament 2003

Unreal Championship brought the Unreal franchise to Microsoft’s Xbox game console; hot on its heels came Unreal Tournament 2003 for the PC (see FIGURE 1.4). Both games focused heavily on multiplayer gameplay, and Unreal Championship was one of the first games to take advantage of the broadband multiplayer capabilities built into Microsoft’s Xbox Live! (see FIGURE 1.5).

Figure 1.4

Figure 1.4 Unreal Tournament 2003 brought many different advances to the Unreal franchise.

Figure 1.5

Figure 1.5 Unreal Championship was an Unreal Tournament-style game created strictly for consoles.

These games were driven by Unreal Engine 2, which ushered in a whole new era of flexibility and power for game development and mod making. Game developers found a powerful new particle system for creating everything from fire to fog, and handy static mesh tools for adding richer detail with cheaper hardware. They found the Karma physics engine, which brought new realism to everything from collisions to explosions. Then there was Matinee, an integrated system for creating in-game cutscenes—brief, noninteractive movies that advance a game’s plot or provide important background. You learn more about these Unreal Engine tools and features later in this chapter and throughout the book.

February 2003: Unreal II

In February 2003, Unreal II: The Awakening launched, revitalizing single-player gaming on the PC. Unreal II returned to the storyline of the first Unreal game, pitting the individual player against the merciless forces of the Skaarj (see FIGURE 1.6). The game also included extensive interaction with computer-controlled non-player characters (NPCs). Unreal II’s lush environments pushed the underlying engine to new levels, and the game’s animations were also supplemented by Legend Entertainment’s powerful Golem animation system.

Figure 1.6

Figure 1.6 Unreal II returned to the franchise’s roots of single-player action.

March 2004: Unreal Tournament 2004

With the advent of Onslaught, Unreal Tournament 2004 brought even further leaps in online multiplayer gaming. This new gaming mode put players in a vast battlefield populated with capturable control points, outposts, weapons, and vehicles—making all-out warfare possible on a tremendous scale (see FIGURE 1.7). Some Unreal Tournament 2004 levels even took place in outer space, forcing players to infiltrate a space station with space fighters before landing to take over the station on foot.

Figure 1.7

Figure 1.7 Unreal Tournament 2004 introduced tremendous battlefields and vehicles.

April 2005: Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict

This second installment of the Unreal Championship franchise was created exclusively for the first-generation Xbox game console, using Unreal Engine 2.5, a special version of the Unreal Engine built specifically for Xbox (see FIGURE 1.8). Unreal Championship 2 offered enhanced graphics and solid multiplayer gameplay, either through system linking or via Xbox Live!. It also added melee combat, presented through a new third-person camera that gave players a whole new view of the hardcore gaming action.

Figure 1.8

Figure 1.8 Unreal Championship 2 was exclusive to the original Xbox system.

November 2006: Gears of War

With all these versions of Unreal in the marketplace, Epic Games was working on an entirely new family of games—and an entirely new version of the Unreal Engine to drive them. That engine, Unreal Engine 3, is the subject of this book—and if you’re here, you’ve almost certainly played some of the stunning games that run on it.

Epic Games’ own Gears of War was the first game to demonstrate the full capabilities of Unreal Engine 3. Featuring a unique third-person camera style, rich and extremely detailed environments, frighteningly realistic enemies, and some of the most visceral combat ever portrayed in gaming, Gears of War became an instant hit—and some of the bestselling intellectual property in history (see FIGURE 1.9). And Gears of War 2 (see FIGURE 1.10), which released exactly 2 years later, has proven to be even more successful.

Figure 1.9

Figure 1.9 Gears of War was one of Xbox 360’s most anticipated titles.

Figure 1.10

Figure 1.10 Gears of War 2 continued to advance the technology behind the Unreal Engine.

November 2007: Unreal Tournament 3

And finally we get to the game that you use to follow the tutorials found in this book, Unreal Tournament 3. This game brought the power of Unreal Engine 3 to the fast-paced multiplayer world of the Unreal Tournament universe (see FIGURE 1.11). Never before had the vast battlefields of the tournament been portrayed with such visceral realism and detail.

Figure 1.11

Figure 1.11 Unreal Tournament 3 allows the Unreal mod community access to the power of Unreal Engine 3.

The intense realism in both Gears of War games and in Unreal Tournament 3 was made possible, in large part, by innovations in the Unreal game engine. These improvements shake virtually every last bit of performance out of today’s advanced hardware: DirectX 9/10 PCs, the Xbox 360, and the PlayStation 3, with its near-supercomputer power.

One example (well, three): Both lighting and materials have been completely revamped, and courtesy of Ageia (now part of NVIDIA), there’s an entirely new physics engine. You might find one other feature even more exciting: the new Kismet visual scripting system. Kismet replaces huge amounts of old-fashioned computer programming with simple gameplay flowcharting that practically anyone can do—most assuredly, including you.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s take that copter-level view of Unreal Engine 3 you were promised...

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