Epic Games is trying make its Unreal Engine into a universal game platform, and there are indications it is working. Today, the studio unveiled that developers have added thousands of tweaks to the engine since the company opened up the platform a few weeks ago.
It’s also shipping Unreal Engine version 4.1, which makes it easier to immediate publish games on Microsoft’s Xbox One and the Sony’s PlayStation 4, in addition to existing platforms such as the PC, Mac, SteamOS, Apple iOS, Linux, HTML5, and Android. Epic is adding the new platforms at no extra cost.
“We’re going to have a solution for every platform,” said Ray Davis, the general manager of the Unreal Engine, in an interview with GamesBeat.
In March at the 2014 Game Developers Conference, Epic Games made its biggest move to transform Unreal from a blockbuster console platform to a universal gaming platform by lowering its costs dramatically. Epic now charges $19 a month for subscriptions and a revenue-sharing agreement that gives Epic 5 percent of game revenues. The pricing is an attempt to steal away indie developers who have embraced rival engine Unity by the tens of thousands.
Davis said the response to the new pricing has been overwhelming.
“It exceeded our expectations,” he said.
Epic’s Unreal has been a high-end platform in the past, making it possible to create beautiful 3D characters and environments in games, like in the Infiltrator demo below. But with the democratization of game development on mobile, social, and online platforms, no one can predict where the big hits will come from (see: Flappy Bird). Now Epic is spreading its bets among the indie developers who have been in Unity’s domain at the low-end. Demos like Infitrator won’t run on all platforms yet, but Epic’s goal is to get such demos to run on just about everything.
The new engine includes sample games, like a shooter and a tower defense game, for studios to use to jump in and learn tools like the Blueprint system, which enables developers to run objects in real-time, in the engine, while tracking the programming graph for objects, or A.I. behaviors, and to make quick changes on the fly. The support for Xbox One and PS 4 means that registered developers on those platforms can get the relevant source code for free.
The source code is now available on GitHub, where developers can download it, create their own take from it (aka “fork it”), and upload their changes to improve the overall code base. Davis said that developers have created more than 3,000 private forks for the code in the past month. Such derivatives are checked in and they can be available within minutes for someone else to use.
Technical director Mike Fricker said in an interview that Epic constantly experiments with new platforms, and it has made the engine work with the Oculus Rift, the virtual-reality goggles platform that Facebook recently acquired for $2 billion.
Epic has also been making the process of porting from one platform to another easier. Davis said you don’t have to be a programmer to deploy the code to a new platform. A developer still has to modify the game for the user interface, such as a mouse, game controller, or touchscreen.
Included in 4.1 for free are the Elemental demo from a couple of years ago and a Shooter Game demo project.
“We are looking at a healthy, live community,” Davis said.