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Unreal technology redirects here. For science or technology which is impossible in the real world, see science fiction.

The Unreal Engine is a game engine developed by Epic Games. First illustrated in the 1998 first-person shooter game Unreal, it has been the basis of many games since, including Unreal Tournament, Deus Ex, Turok, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas, America's Army, Red Steel, Gears of War, BioShock, BioShock 2, Tactical Ops: Assault on Terror, Mirror's Edge, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Section 8, and so forth. Although primarily developed for first-person shooters, it has been successfully used in a variety of genres, including stealth (Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell), MMORPG (Vanguard: Saga of Heroes) as well as RPGs with Mass Effect, The Last Remnant, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

With its core written in C++, the Unreal Engine features a high degree of portability, supporting a multitude of platforms including Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac OS and Mac OS X on personal computers and many video game consoles including the Dreamcast, Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation 3 though the latest version of the Unreal Engine, UE3, does not work on previous generation platforms. A great deal of the gameplay code is written in UnrealScript, a proprietary scripting language, and as such, large parts of the gameplay can be modified without delving deep into the engine internals. Additionally, as with other middleware packages, the Unreal Engine also provides various tools to assist with content creation, both for designers and artists.

The latest release is the Unreal Engine 3, which is designed around Microsoft's DirectX 9 technology for 32/64-bit Windows XP/Windows Vista and Xbox 360 platforms, DirectX 10 for 32/64-bit Windows Vista, and OpenGL for 32/64-bit Linux, Mac OS X and PlayStation 3.


Unreal Engine 1

Making its debut in 1998, the first generation Unreal Engine integrated rendering, collision detection, AI, visibility, networking and file system management into one complete engine. Some trade-offs were necessary to maintain performance levels with the hardware that was available at the time. For example, Epic decided to use "cylindrical collision detection" over the "IK collision detection" system in an effort to maintain playable framerates on systems that were common at the time of its release. Internally, Epic used this engine for Unreal and Unreal Tournament.

Unreal Engine 1 used the Glide API, specifically developed for 3dfx GPUs, instead of OpenGL. Probably the biggest reason for its popularity was that the engine architecture and the inclusion of a scripting language made it easy to mod it. One other improvement of Unreal compared to the previous generation of engines was its networking technology, which greatly improved the scalability of the engine on multiplayer. Unreal was also the first to use a real Client-server model in the engine architecture.

Unreal Engine 2

The second version of the Unreal Engine made its debut with America's Army. This generation saw the core code and rendering engine completely re-written and the new UnrealEd 3 integrated. It also integrated the Karma physics SDK, which powered the ragdoll physics in Unreal Tournament 2003 and Unreal Championship. Many other engine elements were also updated, with improved assets and added support for the PlayStation 2, GameCube and the Xbox. Build UE2.5, an update, improved rendering performance and added vehicles physics, particle system editor for UnrealEd and 64-bit support in Unreal Tournament 2004. A specialized version of UE2.5 called UE2X, which was used for Unreal Championship 2, features optimizations specific to the first-generation Xbox. EAX 3.0 is also supported for sound.

Unreal Engine 3

The third generation Unreal Engine was designed for DirectX 9/10 PC, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Its renderer supports many advanced techniques including HDRR, per-pixel lighting, and dynamic shadows, and builds upon the tools available in previous versions of the engine. Unreal Engine 3 IPP (Integrated Partners Program) includes:

  • EAX 5.0
  • Digimask's Diskmask SDK
  • Geomerics's Enlighten
  • Allegorithmic's ProFX
  • PhaseSpace's Motion Capture
  • IGN's GameSpy
  • Umbra Software's Umbra, dPVS, sPVS.
  • Illuminate Labs's Beast
  • NaturalMotion's Morpheme
  • Scaleform GFx Flash UI and Video
  • MÄK Technologies's Game-Link
  • Audiokinetic's Wwise – WaveWorks Interactive Sound Engine

UE3 has also seen adoption by many non-gaming projects including construction simulation and design, driving simulation, virtual reality shopping malls and film storyboards.

Epic Games recently announced at GDC some improvements made to the Unreal Engine 3. The improvements Epic Games unveiled was an ability to add "high-quality static lighting with next-generation effects, such as: soft shadows with accurate penumbrae; diffuse and specular interreflection; and color bleeding." The new improvement was named "Unreal Lightmass".

Epic has used this version of the engine for Unreal Tournament 3, Gears of War and an improved version for Gears of War 2. Midway Games has also used this generation of the engine for Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe.

Due to aggressive licensing, this current iteration has garnered a great deal of support from several big licensees, including Atari, Activision, Capcom, Disney, Konami, Koei, 2K Games, Midway Games, THQ, Ubisoft, Sega, Sony, Electronic Arts, Square Enix, 3D Realms and more.

At E3 2007, Sony announced a partnership with Epic with the objective of optimizing the Unreal Engine 3 for the PlayStation 3 hardware, which would affect the games and developers currently using it. It has also been reported that an unnamed party is developing a port of UE3 to the Wii.

At GDC 2008, Epic unveiled several design improvements that include rendering more characters on screen, more realistic water physics and soft-body physics (demonstrated at the show using a 'cube of meat'), more destructible environments, improved AI, and enhanced lighting and shadow effects with more advanced shader routines. The revised Engine (dubbed Unreal Engine 3.25/5), debuted with Gears of War 2.

Silicon Knights lawsuit

See also: Silicon Knights v. Epic Games

On July 19, 2007, UE3 became the subject of a lawsuit. Denis Dyack, president of Silicon Knights alleged that UE3 did not work as Epic promised and that certain features and support were not delivered in a timely manner.

NEW Version/release: Unreal Development Kit (UDK)

Because of the new trend in the engine market of removing the barrier between the masses and the utilization of expensive technology by distributing it for free, or for small licensing costs, Epic Games released the Unreal Engine 3 in a binary only form, naming it The Unreal Development Kit (UDK), on November 5 2009.

UDK includes all the up-to-date tools/plugins (including Speedtree, Bink Video, FaceFX, PhysX) and engine functionalities from the full commercial engine license of the engine. UDK is capable to create standalone application/games for Microsoft Windows PC platforms.

UDK is completely free of charge for noncommercial development and deployment/use.For commercial usage, Epic has introduced a new licensing scheme which makes the commercial use in reach (costs) for most startups and indie developers.

The current version of the UDK is a BETA release. Epic will update the UDK on frequent intevals, and these updates remain free of charge.

Developers using the UDK have an exclusive right to the UDN (Unreal Developer Network) website, containing updates, extensive documentation, forums etc. Normally this is only accessible by Full Commercial License holders.

Future version/release: Unreal Engine 4

Mark Rein, the vice-president of Epic Games, revealed on August 18, 2005 that Unreal Engine 4 had been in development over the past two years. The engine targets the next generation of PC hardware and consoles after the seventh generation. The only person to work on the Unreal Engine 4 core system design so far is Tim Sweeney, technical director and founder of Epic games. However, at the 2006 GDC, Tim Sweeney stated that development would not begin in earnest on the next version until some time in 2008. Sweeney has also predicted that the number of developers would be ramped up to three or four engineers by the end of 2008, and would be aimed predominantly at the next generation consoles rather than PCs. Tim gave a speech at POPL06 sharing some of his thoughts on programming.However, it was later confirmed by Mark Rein, the vice president of Epic Games that Unreal Engine 4 was coming to PC. Mark Rein also clarified what Tim Sweeney meant."When Tim Sweeney was talking about Unreal Engine 4 ... he mentioned something along the lines of it being exclusively for the next generation of consoles… what he meant was, it won't run on this generation of consoles."Due to the engine's focus on next generation consoles, Michael Capps, President of Epic Games, indicated that the engine should be ready around 2012 .

List of video games using Unreal engines

See also


  1. Unreal Technology
  2. Nvidia PhysX
  3. OC3 Entertainment FaceFX
  4. Quazal Technologies's Rendez-Vous and Spark
  5. Fonix Speech's VoiceIn and DecTalk
  6. Autodesk's Kynapse A.I.
  7. A.I. Implant for games
  8. IDV's SpeedTreeRT
  9. Pixel Mine Games's nFringe
  10. Autodesk's HumanIK
  11. Vivox's Precision Studio SDK
  12. Geomerics's Enlighten
  13. Allegorithmic's ProFX
  14. PhaseSpace's Motion Capture
  15. IGN's GameSpy
  16. Umbra Software's Umbra, dPVS, sPVS
  17. Illuminate Labs's Beast
  18. NaturalMotion's Morpheme
  19. Scaleform GFx
  20. MÄK Technologies's Game-Link
  21. Audiokinetic's Wwise – WaveWorks Interactive Sound Engine
  23. [1]

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