What is Unreal Engine? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]

For the past few years, a good number of games in the opening credits (or on the cover boxes) have been displaying a “U” logo to indicate the game was made on the Unreal Engine. Some of these games include the Arkham franchise of Rocksteady’s Batman games, Borderlands, Mortal Kombat X, and Street Fighter V. Some upcoming games including the remake to Final Fantasy VII and Shenmue III are confirmed to be in development using Unreal Engine. So how did this unique engine come to be?


After the success of Doom and Wolfenstein, and how their engine can be universally applied in relation to first-person shooters, Tim Sweeney and the rest of Epic Games wanted to make their own first-person shooter with an engine that would last for generations. Development started in 1995 and much of the original Unreal Engine and the Unreal game wanted to focus on collision detection, lighting, and other forms of detail in relation to character and levels. It used its own unique script, which has been coined as UnrealScript and can be used interchangeably with other versions of the engine and the games they are programmed with.

  • System: PC, PlayStation
  • Developer: Epic Games
  • Release Dates: Apr 30, 1998

It introduced other features still in use to this day, such as real-time level creating, and was included as bonus software for players to use and share online, paving way for its present-day relatively free license. Not only did users make custom levels, some fans back in the day made Sailor Moon character models as well.

Licensing It Out

The initial engine allowed multi-platform support for all PC operating systems and consoles that were debuting between the end of the 1990’s and the start of the 2000’s. Sweeney started to see the potential profitability of licensing the engine due to its intended flexible interface. Towards the end of 1999, some companies took advantage of this deal such as Ion Storm’s Deus Ex for PC and PS2, and 2011’s Duke Nukem Forever was initially conceived on the original Unreal Engine.

Deus Ex

  • System: PC, PS2
  • Publisher: Eidos Interactive
  • Developer: Ion Storm
  • Release Dates: Jun 23, 2000

Deux Ex Trailer

As Epic released its second version of the Unreal Engine with new and improved features (in addition to smoother rendering, better physics, and making bigger levels, making cutscenes and an improved physics engine), numerous companies instantly started to hop on. One notable Unreal Engine 2 game that became a hit in the 2000’s was Splinter Cell from Ubisoft.

After North American companies found success using the Unreal Engine, a good number of Japanese based developers have started using it this past decade. Keiji Inafune’s controversial Mighty No. 9 was programmed on Unreal Engine 3, and Street Fighter V and Tekken 7 were made on Unreal Engine 4. In addition to the Final Fantasy VII remake, the upcoming Kingdom Hearts III is confirmed to be in development on the Unreal Engine 4 as well. And the recent Dragon Ball Fighter Z was also programmed on Unreal Engine 4. So why are numerous developers around the world, both professional and independent alike, using it?

Why Use Unreal Engine?

With Unreal Engine 4 practically free for all developers and consumers to download and use, it is only natural that people want to use it for its numerous features. It has a strong support system and there are countless free tutorials online for users to reference. Through present-day versions of the Unreal Engine, people can make games for PC, consoles, arcades, VR, and handheld devices. While downloading and installing the engine is free, if in the event a developer releases a game, they are still required to pay Epic 5% of the profits for every $3,000 in sales on a quarterly basis as a royalty.

While there are numerous tutorials for the Unreal Engine, Yu Suzuki has admitted in recent interviews that developing Shenmue III for the Unreal Engine 4 was initially difficult for his team since it still lacks Japanese language support. So depending on your native language, there is no guarantee that the software has support available in it, which seems to be one of its drawbacks.

Shenmue III

  • System: PS4, PC
  • Publisher: Deep Silver
  • Developer: Ys Net
  • Release Dates: TBA 2018

Shenmue III Trailer

What Can You Do with Unreal Engine?

So you downloaded yourself a copy of the latest version of Unreal Engine 4 from unrealengine.com, what do you do next?

The possibilities are now endless and right at your fingertips. Compared to a lot of gaming engines, it has a very intuitive user base as it allows for many options of choosing a foundation for your game, whether it be first-person, third-person, both (from behind and overhead), flying or racing. Unreal Engine has many subfeatures, which you have to pay extra for on other engines such as Unity, so you're getting your money’s worth (but be prepared to have extra hardware space). For example, some versions of Unity require you to pay extra for scene transitions while this is included for free in Unreal Engine.

While Unreal Engine 4 uses C++ programming (as opposed to UnrealScript from previous versions for convenience purposes), a lot of the coding is organized through its blueprint feature. Think of blueprints as a storyboard in coding. Blueprints are organized into two basic types, levels, and classes. Level blueprints determine how objects function within a level. They can also be used to create lighting, shadows, sound, and weather effects. Users can copy and paste, let's say, a blueprint for a car onto other stages. Blueprint classes are used for the controls and interaction within the game.

Thankfully, there are numerous tutorials online, especially on YouTube, which give great demonstrations how these important features work.

What Is Recommended for Beginners?

In the past, there has been some development software available to consumers such as RPG maker, and a PlayStation 2 game where you could make your own fighting game. But Unreal Engine 4 takes it to a whole new level to a point out that some fans who are interested, do not know where to start. As stated, there are numerous tutorials but some may not be for everyone, especially if you have little to no background in programming and/or game development.

The Unreal Engine has numerous features that make it hard to take it all in, so many experts recommend not to make a full game or a grand environment in a hurry. Of course, you need to learn the basics such as the layout, your tools, functions, and picking a template you feel comfortable with. With Unreal Engine 4, you can have first-person, third-person, puzzle, side-scroller, etc., learn how to use the blueprinting feature –since it is the bones of the engine, and learn from some starter content that is also included when you download it.

While it may seem to create a forest, a space station, or a castle, is appealing, you need to start small. Many experts recommend making a dining room with a table and some chairs. Take things step-by-step and concentrate on things one at a time. Once you get everything down, take it to the next step. Then, work on making characters and designing them and figure out how they interact with that environment. Once you grasp the basics, then you can think about your game.

What genre do you want to make? What platform do you want to use? What do you have in mind for a possible story and its characters? Write down some notes (maybe a script) and draw some concept art and storyboards before you get to programming. Once you have an idea on paper of what you want to do, you can take things from there.

Final Thoughts

A majority of the Unreal Engine’s praise comes in relation to how you can design levels in photorealistic detail. If you want to make a South American jungle, you can do that. Or if you want to make an African desert, a Hawaiian beach, the big city, or countryside, it is possible with the Unreal Engine. With the software free to anyone, many gamers and anime fans are making their own passion projects and sharing them on youtube. Some fans recreated The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Mario 64, and the original Metal Gear Solid on the Unreal Engine 4 to show how these games have stood the test of time.

While these games will never officially go on sale due to copyright issues, hopefully, some of these fans can get their foot in the door for a promising career. One recent example is how a Shenmue fan from South Korea who happens to be an experienced developer on the Unreal Engine, made his own remake of Yokosuka from the original Shenmue game shortly after the announcement of Shenmue III. Not only fans praised him for his work, Yu Suzuki took notice and personally hired him to become an official member of the Shenmue III development team.

Thanks to this relatively free development kit –if you put in the time and effort and share it with the world– anything is possible and a big name developer like Suzuki could hire you based on your passion project. If any of you aspiring developers happen to be reading this and have experience with the Unreal Engine, please share your thoughts and projects in the comments!

Unreal-game-300x374 What is Unreal Engine? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]


Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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