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Epic Games has decided to try something completely different, with rising competition from Unity Technologies and CryTek. Today at GDC 2014, Epic Games announced that Unreal Engine 4 and its source code is available to anyone for just $19 a month. Yep, the full engine for PC, Mac, iOS, and Android is available to anyone for slightly more than a World of Warcraft subscription and 5 percent of any gross revenue resulting from any product built in UE4. For smaller developers, that's amazing.
"This is our complete engine, with everything Epic provides to leading game developers, priced accessibly for teams of all sizes, budgets and aspirations," said Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney. "Now is a great time to be an independent developer. There are amazing platforms and distribution opportunities available, and with this release we hope the Unreal Engine can help developers build cool new things."
Larger companies can license Unreal Engine 4 for custom terms, with a larger upfront payment reducing the royalty percentage. For academic institutions - and this is huge for educators - you only need one Unreal Engine 4 subscription for the entire school, which will allow you to install UE4 on any computer owned by the school. When your students decide to sell their school projects? They just need to get a personal license and pay the 5 percent royalty.
UnrealScript is completely gone, and the engine code is now developed in C++, using Microsoft Visual Studio or Apple Xcode. The full Unreal Engine 4 suite includes the Blueprint visual scripting system, a visual material editor, the Persona animation system, and the Matinee timeline-based machinima and cinematics system.
Epic's demos at GDC illustrate where the company is aiming with its latest engine, a low-end market increasingly taken by Unity's engine. Indies and casual developers have by and large moved to Unity for its ease-of-use, porting capabilities, and extensive, helpful community. The real appeal of Unreal Engine 4 is its focus on a visual interface language, allowing users to create without diving deep into code. Level design, animation rigging, material editing, and AI are meant to be very easy for users. Yes, you can dig deeper to tweak things, but getting a simple game up-and-running quickly is the primary focus.
One example of this is the Blueprint visual scripting system, an improvement of Unreal Engine 3's attempt with Kismet. With the Blueprint system you can add an object, create a set of situations in which that object will change, and then copy that "blueprint" to other similar objects. Want a torch that lights up when the player walks by? You can do that easily with a simple visual flowchart. Epic wants neophytes to feel comfortable playing around in Unreal Engine 4.
Epic is also aiming for the ultra low-end market, as one demo showed off developing a rather quick 2D, Flappy Bird-style game. The point was clear, Epic wants all 2D and mobile developers to play in Unreal Engine 4 as well. This engine is for everyone, with Epic trying to regain the ubiquitous dominance it had back in the past.
One big factor in Unity's rise was also its strong community. In response, Epic Games has completely relaunched UnrealEngine.com. Now there's extensive tutorials, support, documentation, and even an Unreal Engine 4 GitHub. The forums have been relaunched from scratch. Epic's even going farther, with an entire YouTube playlist showing new users how to handle the all-new Unreal Engine 4 (the links above are from that playlist). The site is now the one-stop shop for everything you need to know about UE4.
We here at USgamer walked away feeling like we could create a game, which is probably what Epic Games is aiming for. They want to empower everyone to create games, because doing so brings in those monthly fees and royalties. Imagine the next Minecraft being made under Epic's new program and you see what Epic sees.
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