Monthly Archives: March 2015

First Look: Unreal Engine 4


Following Epic’s announcement that Unreal Engine 4 earlier this month I finally got chance to lock myself away for a few hours and have a look. If you are coming to Unreal Engine from Unity like me Epic have provided a useful guide Unreal Engine 4 for Unity Developers. I also found their video tutorials for Level Editing really useful. Following the tutorials I was quickly able to create an office scene using basic geometry and the Unreal Starter Content. After modifying the scene to include an extra office I added the garden with a patio, plants and rocks. As with Unity, adding a first person controller was a simple matter of dragging and dropping.


The wall lights were easy to set up and had a nice glow. I also included the overhead lights from the Starter Content but found they were a little distracting. Despite emitting the same colour as the wall lights their orange lampshades seemed to be overly reflective. Generally the lights could be a little dimmer in my scene but this can easily be changed.


What really made the scene for me were the real-time shadows and reflections. After positioning the external directional light to shine into the office four reflection probes were added to the scene. As a result the marble and wooden floors look fantastic. I was expecting a lot here and Unreal Engine really impressed me.


Another feature I was keen to try was Unreal’s visual scripting system Blueprint. As visual scripting isn’t included in Unity I wasn’t sure what to expect. After following the Blueprint tutorials I found it really useful for quickly creating simple interactions such as opening and closing the sliding doors of the offices and the rotating door to the garden based on the proximity of the player. Being quite process orientated I found visual scripting really intuitive. However, Blueprint also seemed a little quirky when trying more complex tasks. There is obviously much more to learn here but it has definitely encouraged me to consider seeking out something similar for Unity.


The buildings outside of the office were simple textured boxes that I created quickly in SketchUp and exported via FBX. On first import I experienced a few issues with missing geometry and collision. These issues appeared to be resolved by ensuring to explode any grouped geometry in the models prior to export from SketchUp. Whether this is best practice going forward I’ve not yet determined.


In summary my first look at Unreal Engine 4 was really encouraging and I look forward to working with it more. I did find the editor quite demanding on my current laptop’s system resources. I also wasn’t sure how to optimise my scenes fully and this will take further investigation. With a number of projects coming up I’ll be sticking with Unity for the time being. However, it was very easy to see why Unreal Engine would be such a popular choice for real-time architectural visualisation. Can’t wait to do something with Unreal and the Oculus Rift!


Unity 5 Released!

Great news today from the Games Development Conference in San Francisco. After almost a year since its first announcement the latest version of the Unity game engine has just been released.

From a real-time visualisation perspective the newly enhanced graphical features are the most exciting:

  • Realtime Global Illumination
  • Physically-based Shading – Makes materials look more true-to-life under a range of lighting conditions
  • Reflection probes – Adds better

Jointly these help enhance the realism of Unity scenes by more effectively simulating the way light interacts with materials and bounces off of them. This is demonstrated to great effect in Unity’s ‘Viking Village’ example:

These new features have been used to great effect by Alex Lovett in the development of his ‘Divine Shrine’ concept visualisation below. You can read more about the making of the project here.

Additional enhancements for Audio, in game UI and the Editor mean that Unity 5 is a massive leap forward over previous versions in all regards. This is brilliant news for the scores of indie developers who continue to make the most of Unity’s favourable pricing structure and ease in deploying projects to a wide range of platforms.

Over the coming months I expect to be working with the Unity engine extensively and can’t wait to explore Unity 5’s new features. Aside from the obvious benefit of the graphical enhancements I’m looking forward to experimenting with the ability to deploy direct to the web using webGL which should spare users the need to download an additional web plugin.

Unity 5 is now available for download from the Unity website here. Enjoy!

Unreal Engine 4: Free to Download and Great for ArchViz!

Yesterday Epic games announced that the latest version of their Unreal game engine would be free to download. This announcement came at the start week long Game Development Conference 2015 taking place this week in San Francisco. This is great news for indie game developers as it means there is now a second option alongside the Unity game engine which had already been free to download for several years. Even if you are a student or just curious about game development now is a great time to start out and give it a try.

As you can see from their ‘sizzle reel’ the graphical capabilities of the engine are fantastic, and this has made it very attractive for real-time architectural visualisation. This is demonstrated brilliantly in Dereau BenoĆ®t’s brilliant ‘Unreal Paris’:

Another great example of the lighting capabilities in particular is the following test by French artist Koola.

Finally take a look at German firm Xoio’s great looking ‘Berlin Flat’:

With ready support for Oculus Rift and Leap Motion the engine is really promising. In order to encourage new users Unreal are even offering development grants of between $5,000 and $50,000. Although I have a number of projects coming up I can’t wait to start experimenting with the engine to see how the workflow compares with Unity. If you are as curious as me why not go ahead and check out Unreal Engine 4 and let me know how it goes. For their part Unity are promising big news later today at GDC. I’ll keep you posted.

HTC Vive: Rethinking Reality

HTC ViveOn Monday at the Mobile World Congress HTC announced their new Vive VR headset. Developed in collaboration with games company Valve, best known for their games Half-Life and Portal, the headset is expected to be released before the end of the year, with developer kits available this Spring.

The teaser video isn’t giving anything away. However, the HTC VR ‘Re Vive’ website promises a number of features:

  • A separate 1,200 by 1,080 pixel screen for each eye
  • Screen refresh rates of 90 frames per second
  • Accurate head tracking with a gyrosensor, accelerometer and…a laser position sensor (???)
  • Room scale tracking (15 feet sq) with a pair of base stations
  • VR game controllers with positional tracking

I’ve signed up for a demo as I’m particularly keen to find out more and experiment with the room scale tracking feature. It sounds very much like the equipment is aimed at the high-end gamer. If HTC and Valve can deliver though I don’t doubt that this will be a great piece of kit for creating all kinds of immersive and interactive experiences. Find out more at the HTC Re Vive website.