Epic Takes Newbie Game Designers to School

Epic Takes Newbie Game Designers to School

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Epic Games held Unreal University at this year's East Coast Games Conference to instruct the masses on how to make games with the Unreal Engine.

When you consider the huge number of games coming out today that use the Unreal technology, it can be quite staggering. From Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Asylum to BioWare's Mass Effect series to Borderlands and Dungeon Defenders, the Unreal Engine is a versatile tool for game designers. Now that the UDK, or Unreal Development Kit, is freely available to everyone, Epic believes that it will soon become the toolkit of choice for all burgeoning designers to learn the trade. Part of that initiative was realized this week at the Unreal University held at the East Coast Games Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. Experts from Epic and other studios gave open courses to all attendees to give designers the tips and tricks of the trade that they couldn't get anywhere else. Mark Rein, Vice President at Epic Games, believes that the UDK will soon replace the old practice of modifying existing game code as a new designers calling card.

"Once upon a time, over half [of Epic] came from the mod community. People who would take our games and they would modify them, make them do new things," Rein told me in an empty auditorium after the first keynote speech at ECGC. "We see UDK as the new mod. In other words, people no longer have to take a game and take the tools with it and mod it, they can just go off and build something from scratch with UDK."

By holding Unreal University and teaching specific courses such as "How to Make a Racing Game for iOS with UDK" or "How to Build a UDK Level in One Hour," Rein hopes to encourage that kind of experimentation. "Unreal Engine 3 is a very, very powerful tool set, but sometimes I think people get a little stumped, stumbling on how to get started," Rein said. "So the idea is, get them over that hump, and then they can really open up and do something really creative and fantastic with it. You come to an event like [Unreal University] and you've saved yourself hours and hours of the typical trial-and-error that you do when you're trying to learn something new."

The Unreal University concept is not new, Epic originally held seminars back in 2003 and had a pilot program at the Dubai World Games Expo late last year. How did the game designers in the Middle East compare with those in the West? "I think the biggest surprise was that they weren't that different. That they face the same kind of challenges and they want to build really creative, amazing games. I think game developers are more similar than dissimilar."

Rein is impressed with the young developers who are using the UDK to make fun games quickly. One of the companies that Rein wanted to highlight was Trendy Entertainment, from Gainesville, Florida, that has found great success with Dungeon Defenders. "Here's a developer that's taken Unreal to every platform that it runs on and they're exploiting its capabilities and doing great work. Dungeon Defenders was actually the first game certified by Google for use on Honeycomb and ships preinstalled on the Motorola Xoom tablet. That's pretty impressive for a little small company out of Florida that didn't exist 5 years ago," Rein said.

The mobile platforms are really where Rein sees Unreal growing in the next few years and Infinity Blade for the iOS was the first big push in that direction. Rein spoke to one of his studios, Chair Entertainment, who had made the highly successful Shadow Complex for the XBLA platform. "'I'd like to see you guys make the Shadow Complex of iPhone.' They were like, 'You mean you want us to make Shadow Complex for iPhone?' I said, 'No, I want you to make that AAA game that really uses the platform really well, takes advantage of things that it does well, has great production values. Do it in a reasonable period of time at a reasonable cost and show the world that AAA-production-value games can be profitable on this platform,'" Rein said.

"We said 'We'll give you six months to get something in the [App] store,' and they did it in five." From there, Apple was happy to put Epic's Mike Capps on stage to display the game and feature Infinity Blade in its advertisements.

But that doesn't mean that diversifying into a new platform has been a walk in the park, either. Rein has learned a lot from Infinity Blade. "I'd like to say it's been the best classroom that we've ever had in the last couple years to basically learn about this environment and learn about what can work," Rein said. "We've learned a little bit about microtransactions and how to manage that. We've learned about keeping the game updated and having new features on iOS."

The future is wide open for Epic Games and Unreal, perhaps because Mark Rein is so willing to tackle new platforms and technologies so readily. And by taking the responsibility of instructing new game designers at events like Unreal University, it's clear that Epic Games sees itself as a leader in the industry. So does that mean we might see a more formal institution set up so that Epic can hold courses like this in the U.S. on a more regular basis than every seven years?

"I'd love to do [Unreal University] more often and do it in more places and gradually have an always ongoing Unreal University if we could do that," Rein said.

I think the games industry would be better for it.

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Really wish they would do something like this in the UK, i use UDK alot but it would be awesome to have the devs teach me some new tricks.

I attended the UDK Matinee class yesterday. They really didn't go into depth into anything, but quick overviews of the tools. It is nice if you never used UDK or some the features before. They did allow for more technical questions by people who design the tools is really nice for those of us who have a little more in depth knowledge of UDK. They also had a session on the Unreal Samaritan Demo. I really wanted to go see that watch them play it in real time, but had be at another part of the conference during that time.

Ranooth:
Really wish they would do something like this in the UK, i use UDK alot but it would be awesome to have the devs teach me some new tricks.

same here, i want to know some cool stuff to implement into my levels etc.

Oooh...Sweet. Being a student in a game-programming...er....Program, this interests me.

Perhaps I should take a look into this over the summer.

Im studying Game Development at college and we did work in UDK and such creating levels for Unreal Tournament but something which could help me to truly adapt the engine into something Id like to work on and become better at has got to be a good idea.

I'm working on my first game and I'm using this, i'm finding it really easy as someone who has NO game design experience before (But I have the patience of an indie filmmaker so I'm picking it up easily) This is a VERY strong toolset, and an even better engine for performance. its incredibly accessible.

googleback:
I'm working on my first game and I'm using this, i'm finding it really easy as someone who has NO game design experience before (But I have the patience of an indie filmmaker so I'm picking it up easily) This is a VERY strong toolset, and an even better engine for performance. its incredibly accessible.

What exactly is it that you are doing with it? Do you work with a preset tool set, or are you creating your own assets? If so, what tools are you using?

I'm actually interested b/c I like to program my own engines as a hobby, but I've never given it much of a thought to try Epic's stuff. I shy away from working on 3D for the sole reason that I just don't have the time to devote myself to creating meshes and such and so I just focus on stuff having to do with sprites and the likes (2D stuff, basically).

does anybody have this on video? i must see this

Epic: Making amazing shooters and being totally bro with smaller developers.

Makes me rethink my votes for Lionhead and Mojang AB when Epic went up against those devs in March Mayhem.

unabomberman:

googleback:
I'm working on my first game and I'm using this, i'm finding it really easy as someone who has NO game design experience before (But I have the patience of an indie filmmaker so I'm picking it up easily) This is a VERY strong toolset, and an even better engine for performance. its incredibly accessible.

What exactly is it that you are doing with it? Do you work with a preset tool set, or are you creating your own assets? If so, what tools are you using?

I'm actually interested b/c I like to program my own engines as a hobby, but I've never given it much of a thought to try Epic's stuff. I shy away from working on 3D for the sole reason that I just don't have the time to devote myself to creating meshes and such and so I just focus on stuff having to do with sprites and the likes (2D stuff, basically).

same here. well thats why devs work in teams. 3D isnt really a optimal solution for solo developng unless its really reallly reallly really really really reallly really simple.

draythefingerless:

unabomberman:

googleback:
I'm working on my first game and I'm using this, i'm finding it really easy as someone who has NO game design experience before (But I have the patience of an indie filmmaker so I'm picking it up easily) This is a VERY strong toolset, and an even better engine for performance. its incredibly accessible.

What exactly is it that you are doing with it? Do you work with a preset tool set, or are you creating your own assets? If so, what tools are you using?

I'm actually interested b/c I like to program my own engines as a hobby, but I've never given it much of a thought to try Epic's stuff. I shy away from working on 3D for the sole reason that I just don't have the time to devote myself to creating meshes and such and so I just focus on stuff having to do with sprites and the likes (2D stuff, basically).

same here. well thats why devs work in teams. 3D isnt really a optimal solution for solo developng unless its really reallly reallly really really really reallly really simple.

Wait. You say you're using UDK to develop 2D stuff? How come?

unabomberman:

draythefingerless:

unabomberman:

What exactly is it that you are doing with it? Do you work with a preset tool set, or are you creating your own assets? If so, what tools are you using?

I'm actually interested b/c I like to program my own engines as a hobby, but I've never given it much of a thought to try Epic's stuff. I shy away from working on 3D for the sole reason that I just don't have the time to devote myself to creating meshes and such and so I just focus on stuff having to do with sprites and the likes (2D stuff, basically).

same here. well thats why devs work in teams. 3D isnt really a optimal solution for solo developng unless its really reallly reallly really really really reallly really simple.

Wait. You say you're using UDK to develop 2D stuff? How come?

lol no. I meant generally speaking.

You know what I wish for? I wish Valve would release the Source engine for Retail.

Or better yet, make a Retail Version of Source that is designed specifically to allow People with minimal programming knowledge to build FPS games, using Assets from the Half-Life universe(kinda like Garry's mod)? As in, make it a little bit restrictive, but more accessible. That way people can make short 1 hour long games that don't necessarily have mind-blowingly innovative gameplay (they would essentially be HL2 clones) but tell short, fresh stories. I'm sure a LOT of us have a story we want to tell. And I'm sure a LOT of us want it to be a FP adventure game (shooting optional).

I want, essentially, like a easy to use, 3D version of Game Maker. What do you guys think?

SMU in Dallas, Texas not only has one of the top game developer curriculums in the US, but a whole building dedicated to producing top level people for the gaming industry.

If Epic hasn't approached SMU already--or vice versa--they should! There should definitely be UDK classes, guest lecturers, or even an Epic Professor in residence on campus!

GrizzlerBorno:
You know what I wish for? I wish Valve would release the Source engine for Retail.

Or better yet, make a Retail Version of Source that is designed specifically to allow People with minimal programming knowledge to build FPS games, using Assets from the Half-Life universe(kinda like Garry's mod)? As in, make it a little bit restrictive, but more accessible. That way people can make short 1 hour long games that don't necessarily have mind-blowingly innovative gameplay (they would essentially be HL2 clones) but tell short, fresh stories. I'm sure a LOT of us have a story we want to tell. And I'm sure a LOT of us want it to be a FP adventure game (shooting optional).

I want, essentially, like a easy to use, 3D version of Game Maker. What do you guys think?

UDK is very good with a library of assets and can be modified for a lot of different type of games and is pretty easy to get started to use.

Unity 3D engine is as close to 3D Game Maker as a professional program could get. It is very versatile, but requires some scripting programming knowledge(C++. C#, Javascript, etc.)
There are ton of tutorials and an asset shop if your not good at programming or 3D modeling.

Hmm.

Epic advising on how to utilise the Unreal Engine to full effect: brilliant.

Epic advising on how to make good games? After Unreal 2, Unreal Tournament 3? Fail.

online resources and literature on hte UDK are staggering as well.

I'm surprised not everyone who likes gaming knows at least a little bit on how to use it.

Do they arrive on this;

image

A victory for Epic is a victory for all gamers. Such as this Uni.

I really like UDK (it's a big improvement over the editor that came with UT3, which was already very impressive), but unfortunately I don't know if I can say replacing the Unreal Editor with UDK is the best idea. While there's an upside here in that the tools are easier to get into than ever, and small teams can release their own games with it, on the other hand, it's also going to kill off the mod scene. No Unreal Editor = no using Epic's own assets to create your maps/weapons/etc. = no mods. The cynic in me wants to look at this as Epic finding yet another way to justify sequels and DLC over proper community support.

Building your game solo using UDK is almost impossible... unless you're able to write code, script, animate, model, texture, design levels, design gameplay, write dialogue and story stuff, create cutscenes, create sounds, create music, etc... I'm sorry, but there's just no way that a single person or even a team of a few people can build an extensive, lengthy experience using UDK in a reasonable time-frame without outsourcing content creation. I'm working on a stand-alone campaign for Dragon Age right now which I plan to be about two to four hours long. I can say with certainty that it would be impossible for me to do so if I wasn't able to harness existing tools and assets. Already it's looking like it could take close to a year to develop, so building something from scratch is something I don't even want to think about.

Look Epic, I love you all, I use your engine a whole lot, it's easy to use and bloody good. I would like to make one request about these university lessons though. Why not just put a video of them on the internet so that everyone can see them? It makes sense doesn't it? I mean if you want UDK to be accessible to everyone why not let the learning tools be easily accessible also?

Anyway I've spent a good year at uni now learning it and I think I've grasped enough, as have my colleagues. We're looking to put together a suitable game over the summer and hoping to carry on with it till completion. I know they won't read this but I'd still like to thank them for making something so bloody useful. It'd be a pain if I had to teach myself how to build my own engine, so thanks for doing half my work ^_^

Epic really are amazing, I've loved every game they've ever made and their are so many more they didn't that wouldn't exist without their tech. I'd dare say they're as important and respectable as Valve, Blizzard and Nintendo to the game industry at this point.

Do they record the lectures? would be awesome to get the chance to watch some videos, given that logistics makes being present at any of the events impossible for me and many others...

 

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