The Unreal Engine 3 is the third generation of the Unreal Engine and one of the most advanced game engines seen today. As with previous Unreal Engines, it was designed and developed by Epic Games, who are now probably recognized more for their Gears of War franchise than their games engines. The engine also includes technologies such as SpeedTree and PhysX.
According to Epic, every aspect of the Unreal Engine has been designed with ease of content creation and programming in mind, with the goal of putting as much power as possible in the hands of artists and designers, allowing them to develop assets in a visual environment with minimal programmer assistance. They also want to give programmers a highly modular, scalable and extensible framework for building, testing, and shipping games in a wide range of genres.
Unreal Engine 3.5
While the third Unreal Engine is already a well-established engine, Epic are always keen to improve upon it, as evidenced by their updates to the engine as time passes. At GDC 2008 and 2009 Epic's presentations showed a significantly enhanced engine. This has been unofficially referred to as the Unreal Engine 3.5, and features many improved features, including:
- Ambient Occlusion - A method for producing soft shadows by shadowing in spacial relation to other objects.
- High Density Crowds - The engine now supports far more characters on screen at once than previous versions did, as demonstrated in Gears of War 2, with hundreds of locust seen on screen at once.
- Realistic Fluid Dynamics - Creates life-like liquids in-game. With the use of this feature, water acts like water in the game and whatever you do in or to it will result in a dynamic and realistic reaction.
- Soft Body Physics - Simulation of elastic or deformable objects, as well as stickiness. Materials such as mercury or gelatin can be simulated accurately.
- High Dynamic Range - Offers the player an expanded dynamic range. Allows very bright things to be very bright, very dark things to be very dark, and details will remain consistent in both.
- Destructible Environments - Allows developers to use fracture effects on static meshes, basically enabling destruction of an environment without changing the game world's basic geometry. This means that the technology is somewhat cosmetic; for example, a column may only be broken down until it is just a steel bar at its center.
Unreal Development Kit (UDK) is a free edition of Unreal Engine 3 that provides community access to the award-winning toolset like never before. This software release is available to anyone interested in using 3D game engine technology, including game developers, students, hobbyists, researchers, creators of 3D visualizations and simulations, and digital filmmakers. According to the current EULA, game makers can sell their games by paying Epic a lump-sum of $99 at the outset, and 25% of all revenue above $50,000. Several modifications of Unreal Tournament 3 are being converted over to the UDK, making them standalone indie games. Two examples of this are "The Ball" which is a popular, episodic action-puzzle mod and Coda, which is a multiplayer combat game focusing on advanced melee fighting.
On September 1, 2010, Unreal Engine was brought to the iPhone, iPod, and iPad for the first time in the form of the tech demo Epic Citadel. While the app did not feature any gameplay, users could explore a 3D medieval castle and experience advanced graphical effects such as bump maps, texture blending with painted weight maps, global illumination and much more. Later that year the first game built in the iOS version of the Unreal engine was debuted on December 9, Infinity Blade. The app was a unique fighting game developed by Chair Entertainment and Epic. The game was lauded by critics both for its visuals and its gameplay.
On December 14, it was announced the iOS version of the Unreal Engine would be made available to the public on December 16. Epic says that the engine will be free for anyone to use as long as they do not charge for their apps. Users charging for their apps built with the Unreal Engine pay a $99 licensing fee and 25% royalties after the first $5,000 in sales.
The third Unreal Engine has won numerous awards some of which are:
- TeamXbox: Best Graphics (2006)
- Spike TV Video Game Awards: Best Graphics (2006)
- IGN: Best Graphics Technology (XBox 360), Technological Excellence (2005)
- Gamespot: Best Graphics (Technical) (2006)
- Gamespot Reader's Choice: Best Graphics (Technical) (2006)
- AIAS Interactive Achievement Awards: Outstanding Achievement in Visual Engineering (10th Annual)
- Game Developer Choice Awards: Best Technology (2007)
- Game Developer Magazine Front Line Awards: Best Engine (2006, 2005)