Unreal Technology Features
Epic MegaGames, Inc.
Last Updated: 07/21/99
A Complete Solution
The biggest strength of the Unreal technology, relative to third-party and homegrown
tools, is that it provides a complete solution that has stood the tough test of real-world
game development. While there are certainly some quality third-party game
components on the market, such as QSound, Motivate!, and Caviar, they all provide only a
small part of the overall 3D game-development equation. The saying "God is in
the details" is very applicable to game engine development: a cool rendering
algorithm can only be exploited if it integrates seamlessly into an engine's
collision, visibility, networking, AI, and file management subsystems. All of
Unreal's components have been designed together; they provide a consistent programming
interface; and they fully interoperate.
As a technology developed in conjunction with a leading-edge, high-detail game, the
tradeoffs that Unreal makes on detail versus realism are fundamentally sound and taylored
to real-world constraints. For example, some people may criticise Unreal's
cyllindrical actor collision system as being low-tech compared to an IK-based
system. However, this decision was made with an accute awareness of all the
ramifications it had on the overall product: cyllindrical collision makes AI, player
control programming, and network predication much simpler, and it keeps performance
up. A collision system designed in isolation could easily be more advanced than
Unreal's, and it would probably cause countless headaches when making it work with the
rest of the codebase and making it run at a decent frame rate on 1998-1999 PC's.
- UnrealEd is a realtime level design tool based on constructive solid geometry, optimized
for building realtime 3D environments.
- UnrealEd is fully integrated into the Unreal engine, so the camera views are
what-you-see-is-what-you-get: all lighting, texture placement, and geometry operations
take effect immediately, providing extremely fast feedback while building levels.
- UnrealEd "brushes," the basic units of CSG, can be unlimited in size: no
limitations on polygon counts or convexity.
- Brushes can be generated within the editor using many built-in tools such as box,
cylinder, sphere, staircase, spiral staircase, and cone.
- Brushes can be imported from .DXF or .ASC files.
- Visual editing of properties of actors and objects.
- In UnrealEd, you are one mouse click away from launching your level for play testing.
- "Texture browser" tool for easily selection and replacement of textures.
- "Surface properties" tool for easily modifying attributes of surfaces such as
alignment, scaling, panning, and special effects.
- "Actor properties" tool for visual editing of actors, similar to Visual Basic.
- All mesh animations (creatures, weapons, etc) can be imported as frames from .DXF files
output from state-of-the-art tools like 3D Studio Max, Alias PowerAnimator, SoftImage, or
- Mesh animations support interpolation enabling perfectly fluid animation at high frame
rates. With interpolation, an animation recorded at 15 fps can be played back at 40
fps perfectly smoothly.
- Support for "tweening" between disjoint animation sequences, enabling monster
and player animation to smoothly flow between actions.
Rich, organic surface support
- Texture mapping for applying base detail to surfaces.
- Multicolored light and shadow mapping for applying complex, dynamic,
multicolored lighting to surfaces with shadowing and numerous special effects, including
water refraction caustics.
- Fog mapping for applying atmospheric and volumetric lighting and fog
effects to three-dimensional volumes of space.
- Detail texture mapping to add extremely close-up details to surfaces,
such as fine wood grain, pock marks on brick surfaces, or scratches to metal surfaces.
- Macro texture mapping for adding very large scale detail to surfaces,
for example, adding erosion patterns to an outdoor landscape, or applying a hand-painted
facade to a large building.
- Parametric, fractal, and animated texture mapping support for creating
organic animating materials with endless variety, such as fire, realistically wavy water,
scum, ice, puddles, and so on.
- Translucency, modulation, and masking texture effects.
- Sky portalization enables level designers to build complex "sky
volumes" containing realistic sky, stars, moons, suns, geometry, etc. and see out of
their level into the sky box, as if the sky box is infinite in size.
- Up to 12 levels of mipmapping.
- Supports texture animation sequences with variable playback rate and
automatic synchronization to one-shot special effects like explosions.
State of the art mesh support
- Curved-surface rendering support, with an adaptive level-of-detail subdivision surface
rendering algorithm, eliminating polygonization. This makes organic objects, such as
the alien cows in Unreal, exceptionally smooth and realistic.
- Supports environment mapping and chrome mapping, for reflective objects like those in Terminator
- Parametric mesh deformation enables meshes to be made fatter or thinner to add variety
to organic objects.
- Character models may be "skinned" with up to eight independent texture maps of
sizes up to 256x256, enabling extremely high-detail texturing.
- Variable translucency, which enables transparent objects, like explosions and special
effects, to fade out smoothly.
- Modulation blending, enabling smooth, colored smoke and darkening effects.
- Built-in AI support for advanced creatures and bots.
- Bots know how to use all player movement options, weapons, and inventory.
- Bots know how to use switches, and navigate past platforms, and doors.
- Physics based AI makes complex actor movement straightforward.
- Animation system ties into AI via notification system, with animation playing, looping,
- Path node based AI navigation system, with support for complex route evaluation, alarm
points, and stasis states.
- Object orientation makes AI extremely expandable and customizable.
- AI properties are exposed to level editing tool for level designers to tweak.
Digital Sound System
- Supports 3D positioning via distance attenuation, stereo panning, doppler shifting.
- Supports software Dolby Surround sound encoding for full 360-degree panning among the
center, rear, left, and right channels (requires a Dolby decoder).
- Supports rich, ambient environmental sounds which can be fully controlled from
- Advanced software mixer supports up to 64 stereo channels of music and sound, and mixes
to a 32-bit buffer internally for maximum sound quality.
- Supports 8- and 16-bit samples using any playback rate from 4 kHz to 44 kHz.
- Dynamic sample interpolation enables high-quality pitch shifting without distortion.
- Optimized to take advantage of Intel's MMX technology, with fallback to support
regular PentiumŪ processors.
- Supports DSP-style reverb and echo postprocessing on the sound effect stream.
- Aural raytracing realistically simulates the echo and reverb characteristics of complex
environments. When enabled, UnrealEd pre-computes a reverb kernel for each
designer-specified zone in the level.
- Supports Microsoft DirectSound and legacy WinMM sound output for backwards
- Plug-in interface makes it possible to integrate other sound systems into the Unreal
- Supports Aureal A3D 3D sound positioning, and the upcoming Creative Labs 3D sound cards.
Digital Music System
- Supports both CD audio and realtime digitally mixed music. Game designers can mix
and match soundtracks in both formats to take maximum advantage of the speed and quality
of CD music and the dynamic music and Internet portability of digitally mixed music.
- Smooth and instantaneous dynamic music changes for fading between songs, fading between
tracks within a song, fading to silence, and instantly switching songs.
- Realtime mixing of musical instruments and sound effects.
- Supports volume and panning envelopes for professional composing.
- Supports up to eight octaves per sample.
- Supports all widely used module file formats, including .mod, .s3m, .xm, and .it.
- Multicolored lighting with true colored intermixing of fuzzy shadows.
- Supports raytraced and enveloped lighting.
- Radial, cylindrical, spotlight, searchlight, ambient, spherical, shell, and 20+ special
- Caustic effects such as "fire waver", "watery shimmer", and the like
can be applied to lights.
- Realtime editing of lights in UnrealEd.
- Multicolored lighting supported both on 3D hardware and in all software rendering modes
(with and without MMX technology). This gives designers a far more consistent look and
feel on all target hardware than is achievable with engines which only support
monochromatic lighting in software.
- Supports lens flares and coronas.
- Software rendered 16- and 32-bit color with special optimizations for MMX technology and
Pentium II processors.
- Hardware rendered 16-bit color (24-bit coming when supported by hardware).
- Programming APIs in C++ and UnrealScript.
- Complete four-way calling interface between C++ and UnrealScript, enabling development
of complete projects in either language.
- Based on rich, extensible, object-oriented class hierarchy.
- Highly modularized and replaceable, with all Unreal I game code cleanly segregated from
all general engine code.
- C++ interface based on object model similar in style to MFC, the applications framework
used by nearly all non-game Windows applications.
- Supports dynamic loading of DLL's and scripts on demand, for modularity and efficient
- Robust debugging environment, with VC++ debugger support; flexible assertion system; and
try-catch call stack display for tracking down errors in the field.
- UnrealScript interface based on object model similar to Java.
- Garbage collected.
- One hundred percent portable: UnrealScript code runs on all supported platforms without
- "Everything is an object."
- Safe client-side "sandbox" execution model.
- Fully featured set of of datatypes and operators.
- Native language support for intuitively constructing hierarchical finite state machines
- Performance optimization tools.
- UnrealScript profile.
- Comprehensive game, engine, and networking performance counters.
- Game programming via C++ or UnrealScript.
- Object-oriented class hierarchy that maps naturally onto game concepts (players,
monsters, inventory, triggers, etc).
- UnrealScript native language support for states and state scoping of functions,
time-based execution and latent functions, and networking. This includes replication,
priority management, reliability, and remote procedure calls (RPC), enabling developers to
easily optimize their content for Internet play.
- Advanced AI, pathfinding, and navigation system.
- Powerful, fully customizable physics system.
- Unreal includes the most advanced game networking capabilities of any game to date.
- Supports both small LAN games and large-scale, server-based Internet games.
- Gamers can travel between UnrealServers on the Internet much like browsing Web pages,
with teleporters providing a link between servers.
- Automatic downloading of new content (levels, textures, sound, models, scripts) while
browsing the Unreal universe.
- Java-style client-side scripting capabilities enable high performance even over slow
28.8K Internet connections.
- Modularization of Unreal's platform-specific code makes the engine fairly portable.
- Already up and running on MacOS with 3D hardware support and Mac<->PC networking.
- Portable to high-end consoles systems with 16+ megs of RAM. Next-generation consoles are
appropriate but current systems like the N64 and Playstation are not feasible.
- Built on a highly modular, object-oriented foundation, the Unreal technology is designed
to evolve through many generations of technological advances.
- There are very few hardcoded limits in Unreal. Scenes and levels of arbitrary complexity
are supported; the only factor that limits complexity is virtual memory and speed.
- There are no limits on the sizes (dimensions) of polygons, enabling the creation of
large outdoor spaces. Such areas perform quite well as long as visible polygon
counts are kept within reason. This is a significant advantage over "surface
cache" based rendering, which artificially restricts the size of surfaces.
Realtime algorithmic texture engine
- Wavy textures for producing on-the-fly planar displacement mapped textures with waves
such as ponds, oceans, lava, and puddles.
- Algorithmic field-based realistic fire, explosion, particle, smoke, and steam effects.
- Animated ball and line lightning.
- All effects are fully customizable with a gigantic number of adjustable parameters and
- All effects are algorithmically generated in realtime, enabling seamless animation that
Dynamic scene graph technology
Dynamic scene graph (DSG) technology is a natural extension of portal technology.
A dynamic scene graph consists of a root node, corresponding to the player's
immediate surroundings, and a hierarchical tree of child nodes. Each DSG node has a
coordinate system transformation, clipping volume, and other rendering state associated
with it. Unreal's rendering engine constructs a dynamic scene graph on-the-fly as
each frame is rendered. New scene graph nodes are generated as the viewer's
visibility propagates outward through portals. Scene graph nodes are the basic
building blocks of many realistic effects and special effects, such as:
- Mirror surfaces.
- Semireflective materials, such as marble surfaces which partially reflect light.
- Non-euclidean, redirectable "warp" portal effects for seeing through
- Seeing through windows into an infinite sky zone in which a sky, planets, mountains, and
other objects are constructed.
- Skies and backgrounds with independent coordinate systems for independent translation
The strength of DSG rendering is that all of the node effects are fully interoperable.
For example, once a mirror DSG node is defined, mirrors are automatically supported
recursively (for hall-of-mirror type effects); mirrors work with skies;
mirrors work with warp portals; warp portals work with skies, etc.
Unreal's dynamic scene graph technology is a basic building block which will be
extended in future versions of the technology to incorporate such next-generation effects
as seeing between levels, seeing across multiple servers on the Internet, and refractive
Most of Unreal's subsystems are designed to be highly extensible, by defining an
abstract base class (such as URenderDevice for a general rendering device) to expose the
general functionality to other modulars, while implementing one or more specializations of
the subsystem (such as UGlideRenderDevice for the 3dfx rendering code, or
UOpenGlRenderDevice for the OpenGL rendering code). The following are some of
the modules which are designed for extensibility:
- Actor Modules
- Game Types
- Rendering Modules
- Sound Modules
- Data Import Modules
- Data Export Modules
- Console Modules
- Network Protocol Modules
- Network Helpers
- Way More
User interface & localization
- Object-oriented, highly expandable in-game menu system for running in fullscreen-mode.
- Customizable, hierarchical subsystem-oriented "preferences" setting user
- Native support for localization of text to 8-bit languages, via CODEPAGE 850 and
- Built-in UnrealScript and C++ support for externalization of all text, enabling
non-programmer translation to all 8-bit languages.
Deliverables provided to licensees
- UnrealEd and the standalone .DXF importing tools.
- Full, commented C++ and UnrealScript source code for everything.
- All corresponding executables and data.
- Limited documentation.
- All Unreal 1 game-specific content and game scripts. (For example purposes only. Not
- Updates for the duration of the license period, provided at milestones during
development, which is on average every one to two months.
Licensing & business information
Contact Mark Rein: firstname.lastname@example.org.