24 September 2014

An Unreal Experience Proves To Be A Real Unity

Unreal Engine 4 is out and it definitely goes straight into battle with the Unity 3D Engine (and others). I would like to explain what's different compared to Unity and discuss if you should consider switching to the Unreal game engine.

In this article I will match-up the Unreal Engine 4 against the now current Unity 4 Engine. Don't get me wrong. This article is not written in 'favor' or to 'bash' either one of them. I try to explain and compare both their workflow and results within my expertise.


My Game Engine Experience
I have used Unity for approximately 4-5 years in several successfully finished projects and I have just started using Unreal Engine 4 for the past couple of weeks. I do not say I am an expert in either one of them yet, but I think my findings can still give an realistic and useful perspective. Especially if you are still deciding what engine to use or wondering if you need to make change. I am not arguing I am the best to take an example from, its just my personal opinion and preference and it could be possible I share some of my preferences with you.

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Unreal 4 has the best visual output compared to Unity 4. I think there is a clear difference in visual presentation. However, (to be fair) if we take a look at Unity 5, they have done some improvements, all tough I find Unreal 4 has a more realistic presentation. The fact that Unreal Engine 4 is already here and Unity 5 still has to launch and their performance only is based on promises, I would rather stick with Unreal 4 to be certain.

All the effects & post-processing are 'native' and are 'enabled' within the Unreal 4 Engine. A definite advantage relative to Unity 4. For Unity you need someone armed with knowledge and buy yourself some assets within Unity 4 to achieve great visual results. Still it doesn't achieve the same quality standard like Unreal 4 in my opinion. I am convinced Unity 5 will allow us to achieve much more, hopefully without investing too much time and money. However I rather work with an engine that is already proving me its capable and easy enough to achieve this, than hope on promises that could eventually backfire.

In both engines it's possible to develop on mobile. Using Unreal 4 for a mobile game sounds a bit too ambitious in my ears. Unity is able to export to all mobile platforms even in their free version. Something that is definitely an advantage in comparison to Unreal 4. Let's be realistic, we are not going to use Unreal Engine 4 to develop a small and simple Android game now do we?



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When you are familiar with the Unity 4 game world editor, Unreal 4's editor could be a real eye-opener in terms of usability. Unreal 4 wants you to work with precision. For example, the object 'move, rotation and scale' tool work with 'snaps'. You can exactly snap to the grid or position an object exactly on the ground. While in Unity 4 your objects would 'more or less' be positioned correctly. At least the solution to perfection isn't as obvious as in Unreal Engine 4. Nearly every aspect in Unreal Engine 4's workflow or interface feels like a relief in development. Its in very small details like the flexibility to quickly edit the user interface or separated editors for different purposes, without accidentally messing something up. Not to forget that Unreal Engine 4 never crashed during intensive use the past couple of weeks. It makes Unity feel like a gimmicky engine somehow.

Overall it seems Unity has a lower entry point in terms of complexity. I think people who want to make a quick game without effort for great visual quality taken into account, it would definitely be easier in Unity. Especially since the programming language in Unreal 4 is C++. Known as a more hardcore coding language. Whereas simple Unity scripts or C# code could do the job fairly easy.


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The only way to use Unreal Engine 4 is to start a subscription of 19,- a month and a share of 5% of gross revenue. Unity 4 uses a similar subscription model, only more expensive (75,- a month). Unity does not take a revenue share, but also offers the engine for a standalone price of 1.500,-. I could argue about the revenue share Unreal 4 takes, but when I was thinking about it, I really don't mind. If we as developers make money, Epic Games is making money. If we don't Epic Games doesn't earn anything as well. Don't forget if you bought Unity, you're not done spending money. There are dozens of mandatory assets you need to acquire if you want to smooth-en your game development or help make your game more beautiful. Besides, buying the standalone version of Unity will require you to spend even more money when they decide to release a complete new version, for example Unity 4 to Unity 5. Unreal Engine 4 will continuously be updated and eventually upgrade automatically.


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If your budget doesn't allow you to work on an high-end machine, you might run into trouble with the Unreal Engine 4. It will work on mediocre systems, but I assume when projects start to increase in size, it will definitely invite performance problems. System specs do not lie when they recommend at least an NVIDIA GeForce 470 GTX or AMD Radeon 6870 HD series card or higher. When using a PC build in 2005 it's possible Unity will still run on it and enables you to create cool games. However it greatly depends on the project size. 

Unreal Engine 4 is an engine build for the future of games. Therefore they do not support any exports to older systems such as Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. Another thing Unity greatly supports, as well as newer systems like Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

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Not really a fair statement in my opinion. Unreal 4's marketplace isn't really packed yet, because it doesn't exist as long as the Unity Asset Store. I am sure in the years to come we will see this place will fill-up just like Unity's Store. There is however something interesting. Unreal 4 offers a more 'complete' experience and is less oriented on 'third party' fixes to their engine. It invites assets directly and flawlessly usable in their already full blown engine. Unity Asset Store offers versatile products and tools in terms of quality and usability. In my opinion less reliable in comparison to Unreal 4. Its like Unreal 4 assets exactly tells us how to craft and where to use it for, while in Unity you sometimes need some explorable craftsmanship to use the asset's full potential. A more time consuming task if you ask me.


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Concluding
When Unity entered the development space years ago and conquered grounds, renowned engines like Unreal Engine scribbled their heads how? Someone at Epic Games greatly butt kicked the team to 'level' this easiness to develop beautiful games. Overall I was stunned by the fact so much details are a relief within Unreal Engine 4 in comparison to Unity. I've heard several UDK (Unreal Engine 3) developers claim this 4th engine is something different, something special, a great improvement since.

But let's be clear about one thing. I don't think Unreal Engine 4 is a complete replacement for Unity. Its more about your plans and designs for the game you want to create. Some projects are not suited for Unity, like some are not suited for Unreal 4. Its about your development goals and workflow. Sometimes these are better reached within Unity and maybe larger more ambitious projects are better achieved within Unreal 4.

Still my own preference slightly reaches towards Unreal Engine. Not only because of its visuals or renowned games its produced the past decade, but because it feels like the engine understands my needs. In Unity I was slightly dripping off to a certain area of expertise, where in Unreal I feel like I am in complete control again without hazardous development overtime or unnecessary outsourcing. It suits the companies vision more than what we've tried to achieve within Unity.

This is my first review between engines and I am sure I will most definitely find some aching trouble within Unreal and improvements in Unity 5. I just like to broaden my horizon. I'd be sure to write another review when I did a completely finished project within Unreal Engine 4, as for now, let's make some awesome games!

What do you think about these engines? What do you like about them?

/Koen

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*Update on my 'performative' experiment

I am still working on a great idea to use Twitch for performative game development.
At this moment it's called "Project Assemblage". If everything goes right I will be able to start in October 2014, but I expect it to be a bit later.

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