Unreal Engine is a game engine responsible for some of the greatest games ever created. On April 5, 2022, Unreal Engine 5 was released, an absolute game changer. The engine allows for some of the most impressive and mind-blowing graphics we will ever see. So, let’s see how epic evolved unreal engine, and the stunning graphics we see in games today. This is the evolution of the Unreal Engine.

The Beginning (Reply 1991):

Let us go back to 1991 when computers like this

unreal engine

 was revolutionary. At that time, Tim Sweeney, the founder of epic games, started creating editing tools for his first games. It all started with an action-adventure puzzle game with very simple graphics called ZZT (Yup, this is how it used to look).

unreal engine

In this game, players had to battle various creatures and solve puzzles. At the time, the game was not considered revolutionary. However, the approach to programming was laying the foundation for some of the most breathtaking graphics that we see in games today, want to have a look? … Well, here you go. 

unreal engine

In the 90s, the gaming industry was filled with potential. But even the biggest games were made by a handful of people and built from the ground up through a rigorous process. However, Sweeney’s implementation of the object-oriented language in ZZT, and another game called “Jill of the jungle,” changed all of that. He knew the importance of the game engine, which allowed significant user modification beyond the simple map editors at that time, but more importantly, this approach laid out the conceptual framework for the Unreal Engine, which will revolutionize the gaming industry.

unreal engine

Fun fact 1: Tim Sweeney decided to create the text editor after disliking the programming languages he tried on his PC. During the day, he would study, and at night he would work on his game. In total, the CCT game took nine months to develop and around 1,000 hours to complete, 

Woah, that’s a lot!

Unreal Engine 1: The Beginning!

In 1995, Tim began working on the 1st generation of the unreal engine. The engine was used to develop a first-person shooter known as Unreal.

unreal engine

Surprisingly, at first, the engine relied solely on software rendering with the CPU, but over time, it also took advantage of dedicated graphics cards, which allowed for more advanced games and graphics. The Unreal game was created in 1998 and was one of the first games to emphasize texture and detail. This meant that as a player got closer to an object, more detail appeared.

unreal engine

Other features included collision detection, colored lighting, and an integrated level editor. These features made Unreal one of the best-looking shooters of its time. The game became a massive success, with over 1.5 million copies sold! GameSpot praised the game for utilizing 16-bit color and added that the Unreal Engine has raised the bar on what action gamers expect from future products. Epic released its second game in 1999, called “Unreal Tournament.” While the previous game was a huge success, there were still some issues with the engine. For example, gamers complained about the high system requirements to be able to play the game. Although there were some issues with online gameplay. 

So, the developers enhanced the Unreal Engine to optimize performance on low-end machines. and multiplayer features were improved. In addition to this, the graphics were also improved, allowing for 24-bit, high-quality textures that did not affect performance. 

16-bit graphics; 

The 10 best 16-Bit games ever!

24-bit graphics:

unreal engine

All the efforts developers made paid off, as Unreal Tournament is often considered one of the best video games ever made. On Metacritic. The game received a very impressive score of 92 and over 2,000,000 copies were sold.

This was the start of an evolution in the gaming world. 

 Now that Epic has shown the world the capabilities of its powerful engine, it is time for other game developers to use the engine. Epic began licensing its engine, which led to many games being released that used the Unreal Engine, including Deus. For instance- Harry Potter and Duke Nuke Forever.

unreal engine

Fun fact 2: Tim Sweeney wrote 90% of the code himself for the first generation of Unreal Engine! 

UNREAL ENGINE 2: The Legacy Continues 

The second version of the Unreal Engine made its debut in 2002 with America’s Army, a free multiplayer shooter. The US Army and the gaming industry worked together in an 8-year partnership to develop the game. It was intended to inform, education and Recruit perspective soldiers. Interestingly, it was also the first time the US Army used large-scale game technology for recruitment. It even won multiple awards, including the best use of tax dollars by computer games magazine and the biggest surprise of the year by IGN. Multiple improvements were made to the gaming engine, which allowed for new features.

unreal engine

Gamezilla noticed that some serious effort was needed to be putinto the AI, with enemies doing more than just stand and fire. Often, you will see them working as a team or running one another outgunned. Many games were released using Unreal Engi ne 2. To name a few, there was Spiderman 2, Star Wars, Republic Commando, BioShock 1 and 2, and many games from Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell franchise. 

Unreal Engine 2 was based on its predecessor but had many significant improvements. It could be nearly 100 times more detailed than its predecessor. New features were also added, including a cinematic editing tool, particle systems, and a skeletal animation system. With Unreal Tournament 2004, developers successfully implemented vehicle-based gameplay for the first time.

unreal engine

Fun fact 3: North American video game developer Psyonix modified the base code so that the game receives fully coded vehicles. Epic was impressed by their efforts and even decided to hire them. Later in 2015, Psyonix developed the hugely popular game “Rocket League,” which was built with Unreal Engine 3, and Epic decided to acquire the company in 2019. 

Fun fact 4: The Unreal Engine isn’t just used for games but also for movies and series, including Westworld, War of the Planet of the Apes (Apes together strong! ), Ford vs. Ferrari, and The Mandalorian. Also, Unreal Engine allows filmmakers to use a new technology of LED video walls instead of green screens. This not only allows actors to see the virtual environments in real time, but it also enables more realistic lighting, so scenes can be captured in a single pass. 

UNREAL ENGINE 3:  The modern era 

In November 2006, Unreal Engine 3 was released. The first game to use the engine was Gears of War. On Metacritic, the game received a very impressive score of 94. Gears of War was praised for its concept, visuals, presentation, and sound. IGN called it “the most gorgeous-looking game on the Xbox 360.” 

unreal engine

Unreal Engine 3 came with new advancements in graphics, which helped make Gears of War a success. The engine was based on the first generation but added multiple new features, including a physics system, a sound system, and tools that were dramatically more powerful. A significant change compared to Unreal Engine 2 was that calculations were done per pixel instead of per vertex. This made the graphics much better. Rendering was also improved, and support was added for high dynamic range rendering. In 2010, Unreal Engine was available for both iOS and Android. 

Throughout the years, developers kept updating the engine with new features, including improved destructible environments. large crowd simulations, stereoscopic 3-D, and soft body dynamics. The popularity of the engine also grew significantly. This resulted in licensing deals with major companies like Atari, Activision, Capcom, Disney, Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, and more; around 300 games were developed using Unreal Engine 3. 

In 2009, with “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” which took approximately 21 months to complete, programmers really pushed the limits and created one of the greatest games of all time. 

One of the reasons for the success was the attention to detail. 

For example, one developer spent two years programming Batman’s cape, using over 700 animations to make it move realistically. The game even won the Guinness World Record for the most critically acclaimed superhero game ever. 

unreal engine

Fun fact 5: The Unreal Engine isn’t just used for entertainment purposes. It has also been used to explore new designs for automobiles and buildings. Researchers have also used the engine to explore pharmaceutical drug molecules. 

Unreal Engine 4: The Game Changer

On March 19th, 2014, Unreal Engine 4 was released. Development started 11 years prior. At the start, there was just one guy working on it. Any guesses who that could be? Tim Sweeney, of course!

One of the major new features of Unreal Engine 4 was the real-time global illumination using voxel cone tracing, which adds more realistic lighting to 3D scenes. Another. Another significant change was that artists and designers could now develop features using the blueprint visual scripting system. This allowed them to create interactive elements in their world without using code before. A programmer would be needed, but now anybody could do it with the right assets. 

unreal engine

Epic also provided free copies of Unreal Engine 4 to schools, universities, and colleges, as well as personal copies for students. Epic In 2015, we launched Unreal dev grants, a $5 million development fund aiming to provide grants to creative projects using Unreal Engine 4. Epic stated that the goal of Unreal dev grants was to empower talented artists, designers, and programmers to build outstanding work in and around Unreal Engine 4 while alleviating financial stress. 

Unreal Engine 4 removes the Unreal script that has been used in previous generations. The reason for it was that the list of things that needed to be added kept getting bigger and bigger. 

Tim Sweeney said during a meeting, 

“You know, everything you are proposing to add to the Unreal script is already in C++.”  “Why don’t we just kill the real script and move to C++?”

You know, maximum performance and maximum debugging ability. It gives us all these advantages. 

Street Fighter V was a popular Unreal Engine 4 game. Gears of War 4, Saw of Thieves, The Outer Worlds, Star Wars Jedi Fallen, Day’s Gone: Gears 5, Five Nights at Freddy’s, and countless other titles  

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order review | TechRadar

Unreal Engine 4 even surpassed the number of games developed compared to Unreal Engine 3. In total, more than 400 games have been developed with Unreal Engine 4. The growing popularity of the engine was partly due to its support for many platforms. 

To name a few, it supports Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, the next generation Xbox Series X and S, and the PlayStation 5. 

In 2017, a new genre of games really took off. Any guesses? 

Yes, I am talking about the battle Royale genre. 

In 2017, PUBG Battlegrounds was released, which was completely built using Unreal Engine 4 with a total player count of an astonishing 1.2 billion players as of March 2021. It is the most-played video game of all time. A fortnight after the release of PUBG, another free battle royale game was released. The game was also made using Unreal Engine 4 and was developed by none other than Epic Games. Fortnite was a huge success, attracting over 125 million players in less than a year by the end of 2019. Fortnite generated a massive $9 billion in gross revenue. 

Best battle royale games | TechRadar

Fun fact 6: In September 2014 Epic opened the Unreal Engine marketplace, which is a digital storefront that allows content creators and developers to download and purchase models assets sounds code snippets environments, and other features 

Unreal Engine 5: what is real and what is not?

In 2018, developers started working on the next Unreal Engine, which is an absolute game changer. It features some of the best video game graphics ever seen. Four years later, on April 5, 2022, Unreal Engine 5 was officially launched. The main goal of Unreal Engine 5 was to make it as easy as possible for developers to create detailed game worlds without having to spend excessive time creating new detailed assets. 

Unreal Engine 5 adds several new major features. One of those features is Nanite, an engine that allows for highly detailed photographic source material to be imported into games. What makes it even more impressive is that Nanite automatically handles the level of detail of objects appropriate to the target platform and draw distance. This saves artists a massive amount of work since this had to be done by themselves. 

How to enable Nanite on Static Meshes – FPS Game Starter Kit

Otherwise, to significantly improve the lighting, Lumin was created. It was described as a fully dynamic global illumination solution that immediately reacts to scene and light changes. Lumin creates dynamic lighting and allows light to bounce off other objects to create more realistic and beautiful scenes 

Epic Games shows off a stunning Unreal Engine 5 demo on PlayStation 5 |  Page 2 of 3 | VentureBeat

Overall, Unreal Engine 5 allows for an unprecedented level of detail with an impressive draw distance.

This Unreal Engine 5 Superman Demo is MIND BLOWING [4K] - YouTube

The engine supports the next-generation PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and S. The engine takes advantage of the high-speed storage solutions of these consoles. To improve the engine even further, Epic and Sony have been working closely together to optimize Unreal Engine 5 for the PlayStation 5. A real-time demo of Unreal Engine 5 running stunning graphics on the PlayStation 5 was revealed in May 2020. 

Another demo for the next-generation consoles was released at the end of 2021. The Matrix: Awakens Unreal Engine 5 experience is a boundary-pushing technical demo. It has a dense, open-world city environment. made from billions of polygons, resulting in some of the most impressive graphics we have ever seen.

Fortnite was the first game to use the Unreal Engine. It was used as a test platform to showcase what the engine can do for the game, multiple games are currently in the works that are yet to be released using the engine, including ARC 2. Cineworld saga, Hell blade 2, Stalker 2. 

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2' to appear at Xbox Games Showcase Extended

Honestly, it is just mind-blowing how far the Unreal Engine has come in terms of realism and games. 

Fun fact 7:  Unreal Engine has won numerous awards, including a Guinness World Record for the most successful video game engine. 

It is truly unbelievable how much Unreal Engine has progressed in the last 24 years, and I can’t wait to see how this technology will continue to move forward in the future. 

Summing Up

Considering the evolution of Unreal Engine over the years, it is clear that the engine’s future is EPIC. 

Throughout all this time, Unreal Engine has maintained itself as the best gaming development tool. Still, there is much to gain and much to explore in this field. 

However, if you are interested and have an intriguing game idea, Extern Labs can assist you in developing one using the Unreal Engine.

Reach out to us and let’s discuss your idea and about the game development to turn your idea into reality.

Meanwhile, Have fun gaming!  

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